Title Page
 Table of Contents
 Introduction: Terminology and conceptions...
 Fictional aspects of the theory...
 Historical poets and the theory...

Group Title: theory of literature of James Branch Cabell
Title: The theory of literature of James Branch Cabell
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00097857/00001
 Material Information
Title: The theory of literature of James Branch Cabell
Physical Description: vii, 141 leaves : ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Gray, Charles Farrell, 1931-
Publication Date: 1966
Copyright Date: 1966
Subject: English thesis Ph. D
Dissertations, Academic -- English -- UF
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Thesis: Thesis - University of Florida.
Bibliography: Bibliography: leaves 139-140.
Additional Physical Form: Also available on World Wide Web
General Note: Manuscript copy.
General Note: Vita.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00097857
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: alephbibnum - 000561372
oclc - 13516970
notis - ACY7301


This item has the following downloads:

PDF ( 6 MBs ) ( PDF )

Table of Contents
    Title Page
        Page i
        Page i-a
        Page ii
    Table of Contents
        Page iii
        Page iv
        Page v
        Page vi
        Page vii
    Introduction: Terminology and conceptions of the theory of literature
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
        Page 20
        Page 21
        Page 22
        Page 23
        Page 24
    Fictional aspects of the theory of literature
        Page 25
        Page 26
        Page 27
        Page 28
        Page 29
        Page 30
        Page 31
        Page 32
        Page 33
        Page 34
        Page 35
        Page 36
        Page 37
        Page 38
        Page 39
        Page 40
        Page 41
        Page 42
        Page 43
        Page 44
        Page 45
        Page 46
        Page 47
        Page 48
        Page 49
        Page 50
        Page 51
        Page 52
        Page 53
        Page 54
        Page 55
        Page 56
        Page 57
        Page 58
        Page 59
        Page 60
        Page 61
        Page 62
        Page 63
        Page 64
        Page 65
        Page 66
        Page 67
        Page 68
        Page 69
        Page 70
        Page 71
        Page 72
        Page 73
        Page 74
        Page 75
        Page 76
        Page 77
        Page 78
        Page 79
        Page 80
        Page 81
        Page 82
        Page 83
        Page 84
        Page 85
        Page 86
        Page 87
        Page 88
        Page 89
        Page 90
        Page 91
        Page 92
        Page 93
        Page 94
        Page 95
        Page 96
        Page 97
        Page 98
        Page 99
        Page 100
        Page 101
        Page 102
        Page 103
        Page 104
        Page 105
        Page 106
        Page 107
    Historical poets and the theory of literature
        Page 108
        Page 109
        Page 110
        Page 111
        Page 112
        Page 113
        Page 114
        Page 115
        Page 116
        Page 117
        Page 118
        Page 119
        Page 120
        Page 121
        Page 122
        Page 123
        Page 124
        Page 125
        Page 126
        Page 127
        Page 128
        Page 129
        Page 130
        Page 131
        Page 132
        Page 133
        Page 134
        Page 135
        Page 136
        Page 137
        Page 138
        Page 139
        Page 140
        Page 141
        Page 142
Full Text






August, 1966


PREFACE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . iv

THEORY OF LITERATURE . . . . . . . . 1

1. The Dynamic Illusion of Common Sense . . 7
2. The Dynamic Illusion of Religion . . . 7
3. The Dynamic Illusion of Patriotism and
Politics . . . . . . . . . 8
4. The Dynamic Illusion of Chivalry . . . 9
5. The Dynamic Illusion of Optimism . . .. 10


Character. . . . . . . . .... . .25
Poet-Heroes. . . . . . . . . ... 25
Supernatural Characters . . . . . ... 48
Women. . . . . . . . . ... . .58
The Allegorical Journey and Thematic Pattern . 67
Places . . . . . . . . ... . . 85
Emblems. . . . . . . . . . ... 100


CONCLUSION ...... . . . . . . . . . .. 136

BIBLIOGRAPHY. . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 139

VITA. . . . . . . . . ... . . . . . . .141


James Branch Cabell has until recently been treated by critics

as a writer completely out of tune with his age--a romanticist and an

impressionist in an age of social consciousness and The Humanism of

More, Babbitt and Forester. The author's pose has been accepted as the

final critical position about his works. This study of his theory of

literature and its presentation, The Biography of the Life of Dom Manuel

(1927-30), explores Cabell's complex mind and his consistent philosophi-

cal and fictive vision. Out of his sardonic and romantic sense of ar-

tistry and style came a composite of critical theories from the past

and from his contemporaries. Although he ignores the social conscious-

ness and the prevailing literary rebellion of the 1920's and 1930's to

strike a seemingly outmoded literary pose, it is this presentation which

best sustains his notions of the human condition and of true literature.

Underneath the facade and woven into the medieval and romantic tapestries

is a perspective, a vision, that lights up most of man's doubts and

dreams and forces the reader to examine his own values in life and


A searching examination of universal human behavior cannot be

separated from a theory of literature because the success of the skepti-

cal romantic position lies in its insistence upon a critical literary

theory. The theorist plays fictional slight-of-hand, working his ideas

through character, patterns of action and theme, place, and emblem; cre-

ating a magical illusion of other times; shaping a completely realized

heterocosmos, a world and a universe with its own abstractions and gods.

Action does not slow down for a fictional status to present ideas; it

moves without pause--the work of a self-expressive imagination that

thinks and creates in historical, literary, mythical, and metaphysical

forms. The characters, the patterns, the settings and the ideas are

forged into a single effect--Cabell's coherent fictive vision of the

world and the literature wrought out of that world.

That vision is expressed in The Biography as a theory of litera-

ture. Cabell himself does not use the phrase, theory of literature, and

for purposes of this discussion it needs a definition. The phrase sug-

gests the complex ideas or notions (as Cabell would prefer to call them)

concerning the act of creating a work of fiction, the nature of the

creator or poet, the materials used--both life and words--to make the

work, and the audience who responds to the completed work. Cabell treats

all of these aspects of literary theory in The Biography.

The manner and mode of the presentation is an elaborate fiction

with a dominating metaphorical structure. The Cabellian characters, both

human and supernatural, are arranged in an intricate genealogy which be-

gins in Medieval France and ends in Modern Virginia. However, it is not

ancestral relationships as such which occupy his attention. Rather it is

dominant attitudes that characterize the men and women who descend from

Manuel the Redeemer. The genealogical metaphor gives order to the theories

about human nature and literature. Cabell consolidates this metaphor

into a genealogical table, The Lineage of Lichfield, also an outline of

The Biography.

Since the major presentations of this theory are fiction, the

analysis of it should concentrate on aspects of fiction as well as the

terms and conception of literary theory. These aspects are characters,

action, theme, setting and symbol or emblem. The theory, however, is

grounded on a philosophical position which Cabell expounds in both fic-

tion and non-fiction in the epilogue and prologue of The Biography.

These more specifically critical and philosophical parts of the work

are distillations of thought from prior fictional shaping of them.

These books, Beyond Life (1919) and Straws and Prayerbooks (1924), de-

fine Cabell's abstract terminology. Clarification of the terminology

necessarily leads to a clarification of the fictional presentation of

the theory. In the novels and stories Cabell objectifies his abstrac-

tions in character, action, theme, place and emblems. The literary

theory is given a multi-faceted, sometimes densely ornamented form.

The consistency of his point of view and form of expression is

unique in American Letters. Both the form and viewpoint have until the

recent work of Arvin Wells, Joe Lee Davis, and Raymond Himelick and

Louis Ruben, Jr., obscured the skeptical serio-comic thought; the

esoteric learning has detracted from the rich humor and the biting but

timeless satire about literary life; the meticulously beautiful style

has softened the lashing wit and the modern temper.

To grasp this vision and in some way to explicate it, I have read

the greater part of Cabell's work. For purposes of this study, however,

I have limited the discussion of what he considered his major work, The

Biography of the Life of Dom Manuel, the Storisende Edition. The fic-

tional works appearing after this collected edition add little to the

literary theory,and the autobiographical works explore the same ground

covered in Beyond Life and Straws and Prayerbooks. I have read The

Biography in two ways: in the chronological order in which the books

were written and in the order in which Cabell arranged them for the

Storisende Edition. In the analysis I have chosen to use The Biography

as it was finally ordered,regardless of when the individual volumes

first appeared. That form reflects Cabell's final and best shaping of

his fictive vision.

I am grateful to Professor Robert H. Bowers and Director Stanley

West, and particularly to Professor Harry Warfel for his guidance in

shaping the ideas of this dissertation.



The genesis of Cabell's theory of literature is no more systematic

than is Emerson's intellectual growth through his lectures and essays.

As in Emerson's Nature, the basic concepts, terms, and metaphors such as

compensation, beauty, and organisms appear; then, through the various

works, these elements are expanded by example and constant re-examina-

tion. Emerson chose poetry and poetic, organically--developing essays

and lectures to extend his seminal ideas. Cabell chose allegorical-

episodic fiction and the familiar essay. If we look for a tight, profes-

sional philosophical system in Emerson, we find a poet. If we look for a

poet, the philosopher-sage is uppermost. In Cabell's works, the germinal

ideas are presented in the earliest literary effort (see Rothman on the

Congreve essay written during Cabell's college years, 1894-1898), and

they are often repeated, developed, and embellished in all that follows,

achieving their most mature statement in the final volume of The Biography

of the Life of Dom Manuel.2

Cabell's literary theory receives its major shaping in Beyond Life

(1917) and Straws and Prayerbooks (1924). After the books which comprise

The Biography, the theorizing, which is usually more informally conversa-

See the unpubl. diss. (Columbia, 1954) by Julius L. Rothman, "A
Glossorial Index to the Biography of Manuel," pp. 1-2.

James Branch Cabell, The Works of James Branch Cabell, 18 vols.
(New York, 1927-1930). All references to The Works will appear in the

tional than logically philosophical in tone and manner, continues through

The Nightmare Trilogy and dissolves into anti-climactic querulous argu-

ments in the last autobiographical works, Let Me Lie (1943), Quiet,

Please (1952) and As I Remember It (1955).

Cabell's position is characteristically nineteenth-century roman-

tic in its concentration on the poet-artist. But he is also much the

eighteenth-century neoclassical figure in his association of art with

some common source--Nature or the Universe. Cabell does not restate

Pope's "Art is Nature to advantage dressed," but he comes close to it

as he explains the auctorial virtues.. His theory thus synthesizes the

eighteenth and the nineteenth-century literary philosophies. In The

Biography he plays across the whole continuum from art as a perfecting

of nature used to delight and instruct to art as sincere overflow--a

God-originating force--and finally to the art for art's sake, fin de

siecle theories of Pater, Wilde, Stevenson.3 He is caught in the central

fight of the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth

centuries. Indeed he may be called one of the major casualties of that

other "foolish war" between Romance and Realism. He takes sides with

Romance, illusion, dream; he chastizes Philistia, the Realists, social


The theory has as its axis the opposition between the Realist, who

attends to the physical world as it is, and the Romanticist, who imagines

an ideal world that ought to be. The Realist criticizes life by transcrib-

3Oscar Cargill, Intellectual America (New York, 1941), pp. 498-499.

ing it; the Romanticist criticizes life by evading the distasteful,

thereby implying that it could be improved. Cabell does not deny the

universe that the Realist describes; he merely finds that excessive at-

tention to it is not so productive as attention to the illusions which

men live by. The conceptions of the literary theory and the fictional

statements of those conceptions start from this basic antithesis between

the Real and the Romantic.

For Cabell, the universe that the artist lives in supplies the

materials for the work of art insofar as the particular vision of the

universe is reflected in his work. The theory begins with mechanistic

and evolutionary conceptions of man's relationship to the universe, of

the peculiar quality of the poet's relationship to the universe, and of

the kind of association existing between the universe and the work of

art. In Beyond Life, Charteris cogently states this view: "All about

us flows and gyrates unceasingly the material universe, an endless in-

conceivable jumble of rotatory blazing gas and frozen spheres and detonat-

ing comets, wherethrough spins Earth like a frail midge. And to this

blown molecule adhere what millions and millions of parasites just as I

am, begetting and dreaming and slaying and abnegating and toiling and

making mirth, just as did aforetime those countless generations of our

forebears, every one of whom was likewise a creature just such as I am'"

(I, 38-39). In this mechanistic universe man moves and evolves physically

in a certain pattern. The body works on the same philosophical principle

as does the universe:

The thing is rather a parody, in dubious taste. . .
So far from being you, it is not even really under your

control. Prefiguring it as your residence, you are immured
in the garret, where you have telephonic communication with
the rest of the house. But a house remains quiescent:
whereas this thing incredibly sprouts lawns of hair; con-
cocts, as no chemist can do, its saliva and sweat and gas-
tric juices, with a host of mysterious secretions and uses
them intelligently; makes and fits on a vitreous armor for
the tips of its toes and fingers; builds up and blazes and
renews its sentient teeth; dispatches, to course about its
arteries, innumerable rivulets of blood, with colonies of
living creatures voyaging thereon; and of its own accord
performs a hundred other monstrous activities in which you
have no say. A third of the time, indeed, this commonwealth
which you affect to rule takes holiday, willy-nilly, and you
are stripped even of pretendership by sleep;. Meanwhile the
thing restlessly destroys and rebuilds itself. There is no
particle of it, in the arms and legs or anywhere, which
those hands before you have not lifted and put into the
mouth's humid cavern: nor is there remaining today one atom
of the body you frequented ten years ago. For incessantly
it sloughs and renews and recasts itself, this apparently
constant body: so that you afforded neither a private nor a
permanent residence, but wander about earth like a windwhirl
over a roadway, in a vortex of ever-changing dust. (I, 85-86)

This seeming parody came into existence not through any particular

physical superiority. As a being "it was unpleasantly apparent that man

did not excell in physical strength, as set against the other creatures on

a planet whereon may be encountered tigers and elephants. His senses were

of low development, as compared with the senses of insects; and, indeed,

senses possessed by some of these small contemporaries man presently

found he did not share, nor very clearly understand. The luxury of

wings, and even the common comfort of a caudal appendage, was denied him.

He walked painfully, without hoofs, and, created naked as a shelled al-

mond, with difficulty outlived a season of inclement weather. Physically

he displayed in not a solitary trait a product of nature's more ambitious

labor"(I, 32-33).

Having nothing physical to compete with the universe around him,

he did possess one quality that the rest of creation did not seem to

possess: the power to reason. This reasoning did not acknowledge the

fact of its physical limitation. Instead, "man probably began very early

to regale himself with flattering narrations as to his nature and des-

tiny" (I, 33). Alone in his understanding of his condition, he evolved

on another plane. "Among the countless internecine animals that roamed

earth, puissant with claw and fang and sinew, an ape reft of his tail,

and grown rusty at climbing, was the most formidable, and in the end would

triumph. It was of course considered blasphemous to inquire into the

ground for this belief, in view of its patent desirability, for the race

was already human. So the prophetic portrait of man treading among cring-

ing plesiosauri to browbeat a frightened dinosaur was duly scratched upon

the cave's wall, and art began forthwith to accredit human beings with

every trait and destiny which they desiderated" (I, 33). Man's salvation

is in his refusal to accept the facts his reason shows him about himself

and his universe. Man revolts against the order imposed upon him; the

mode of that revolt is imagination.

Precisely as Plato had revolted philosophically against Democrites'

mechanistic view of the universe, Man, according to Cabell, revolts

against his own knowledge by seeking to push his self-expression beyond

life. The term given to this impulse, Demiurge, derives from this Pla-

tonic revolt. For Plato in Timaeus, the Demiurge is "the world-forming

God who formed or shaped out that which is not Being, i.e., space, 'with

regard to Ideas'." For Cabell, the Demiurge is "the power of romance--

the world shaping and world controlling principle" (I, 14). This "shape

giving principle of all sentient being is artistic" (I, 20). The Demi-

urge is "the universal tendency to imagine--and to think of as in reality

existent--all the tenants of earth and all the affairs of earth, not as

they are but as they ought to be" (I, 20-21).

Cabell's Demiurge creates what he called dynamic illusions: reli-

gion, myths, politics, common sense, art, patriotism, and realism. The

central impulse producing all of them is the spirit of Romance. "Dynamic

illusions" or "dreams" or "fictions" are the realities, the timeless

truths of the world. They also represent phases in man's cyclical progress.

In defining the relationship between the spirit of Romance and dynamic il-

lusions, Cabell reflects a romantic naturalism: ". . the progress of

romance . is a purely natural force; and in nature, as has been

strikingly observed, any number of times, there are no straight lines.

Art thus does not always go forward, but moves in recurrent cycles, as

inevitably as the planets and tides and seasons, and all else, which is

natural" (I, 100-101). There is, he says, a need for "a continual slight


Cabell shapes a kind of hierarchy or chain of dynamic illusions.

Perhaps these dynamic illusions in their somewhat schematic arrangement

of varying intensities could be called Cabell's value system. In this

scheme he has Charteris, his most Romantic writer-philanderer, arrange

his fictive evaluations of man's mental, social, ethical, religious, and

artistic behavior. The dynamic illusions are like Leibniz's monads--

independently reflecting each other and all reflecting a part of a pre-

supposed harmony, the demiurgic spirit of romance. Similarly the dynamic

illusions may be said to reflect their distance from the absolute crea-

tive form--the ideal Romance. Some illusions are more intensely reflec-

tive than others. All have uses for "man, who alone of creatures apes

his dreams" (I, passim).

The dynamic illusions are interdependent as the emotions, experi-

ence, and the intellect are interdependent, but Cabell views a progres-

sion from the most elemental to the most complex. The following presents

a brief definition in that order:

1. The Dynamic Illusion of Common Sense:

"the belief in the value of doing practical things" (I, 87) gives the

average person a reason for working and attaining creature comforts. That

Cabell places this illusion at the bottom of his scale is made obvious by

the manner in which he characterizes the relationship between the Demi-

urge and the belief or illusion: "to every dupe, of course, romance as-

signs no more than a just adequate illusion; and squanders no unneeded

cunning in contriving the deceit" (I, 88).

2. The Dynamic Illusion of Religion

is "the demiurgic effort to exalt the animal and to woo him away from 're-

alism'"--that adjunct of the lowest dynamic illusion, common sense. (Re-

ligion and myth are synonymous to Cabell, and so they will be synonymous

here.) "Everywhere, as romance evolved the colorful myths of religion,

the main concern of the gods was, less with their own affairs, than with

the doings of men; and everywhere religion was directly profitable to men,

and everywhere romance loaned to this new form of expression that peculiar

beauty--which is delicate and strange, yet in large part thrills the ob-

server by reason of its unexpected aptness--such as always stamps the

authentic work of romance (I, 119). Cabell was to realize this dynamic

illusion in fictional form in The Silver Stallion, that satirical Acts of

the Apostles, that storehouse of mythologies ranging from Ancient Taoltecs

to Egypt to Virginia-Shintoism.

The culminating development of this dynamic illusion was to be

Christianity--the pemiurxe's masterpiece. The story of Christ--the whole

Bible romance is "the apotheosis of the Cinderella legend" (I, 120). No

effort of the Demiurge is more delightful romance than The Bible wherein

"there are only two characters. God and Humanity." This cosmic love

affair is caught in the many people of the Bible who are used as "arbi-

trary symbols" which "individually signify very little," but viewed col-

lectively, like so many letters on a printed page, they reveal a meaning,

and it is gigantic. Cabell, discussing Christianity as a fairy tale, sub-

stitutes the Author for God or Jehovah. The Author, God, Jehovah, and

Demiurge are avatars of a single concept.

3. The Dynamic Illusion of Patriotism and Politics

is both dynamic illusion and an anesthetic."When you consider that presi-

dents and chief-justices and archbishops and kings and statesmen are human

beings like you and me and the state legislators and the laundryman, the

thought becomes too horrible for humanity to face. So, here, too, romance

intervenes to build up a mythos about each of our prominent men--about his

wisdom and subtlety and bravery and eloquence, and including usually his

Gargantuan exploits in lechery and drunkenness--so as to save us from

the driveling terror that would spring from conceding our destinies in

any way to depend on other beings quite as mediocre and incompetent as

ourselves. . ." (I, 176-177). The Demiurge thus protects us with an

anesthetic called patriotism which is also a dynamic illusion for it

allows us to move without depending upon logic--it is a creed "undefiled

by any smirch of 'realism' or of that which is merely 'logical'" (I, 181).

Again to repeat the theme it takes us "beyond life" and therefore is an-

other of "the magnanimous factors in human life" (I, 180).

4. The Dynamic Illusion of Chivalry

has as its cornerstone "the idea of vicarship for the chivalrous person

is, in his own eyes at least, the child of God, and goes about this world

as his Father's representative in an alien country" (I, 36). On this no-

tion of divine vicarship man built his elaborate medieval code. The same

illusion also shaped courtly love codes around domnei or woman worship in

which man found his mistress to be "an ever-present reminder, and some-

times a rival of God" (I, 38). Man's life is assumed to be a personal

transaction between himself and omnipotence and the female held in domnei

is the most earthly emblem of that transaction. "It was a canon of

domnei, it was the very essence of domnei, that the woman one loves is

providentially set between her lover's apprehension and God, as the mobile

and vital image and corporeal reminder of Heaven, as a quick symbol of

beauty and holiness, of purity and perfection. In her the lover views

all qualities of God which can be comprehended by merely human faculties.

S. And instances were not lacking in the service of domnei where

worship of the symbol developed into a religion sufficing in itself, and

became competition with worship of what the symbol primarily represented"

(I, 59-60). For man t imagine this chivalrous relationship between him-

self and God with the worshipped woman as the intermediary is to bring

that relationship about "since man alone of animals can, actually, ac-

quire a trait by assuming, in defiance of reason, that he already possesses

it" (I, 38).

5. The Dynamic Illusion of Optimism:

Writing of Dickens and Thackeray, Cabell reveals the high point of the

scale in this illusion: ". . these writers faithfully copied life in

life's most important teaching, inculcating that for persons who honor

the aesthetic convention of 'good' and 'evil' a happy ending impends and

is inevitable, through howsoever unlikely means? For the dynamic illu-

sion of optimism is very thriftily fostered by romance in the wisest, and

in the wise alone" (I, 196).

There is an organic relationship between the illusions brought on

by their dynamic natures. They are not mutually exclusive: the same

words and phrases are used in defining each of them. These illusions are

characterized by a utilitarian purpose because they generate good effects

for man--they are necessary for his survival. Common Sense feeds him and

occupies his hours, gives him other creature comforts. Religion shows

him a point toward which he moves with the aid of its fictions. Politics,

and its corollary patriotism, provides an anaesthetic as well as another

point of externalizing, or objectifying without benefit of'"logic' or

"realism". Chivalry and optimism are further sophistication of the

forces suggested in Common Sense, Religion (in its primitive, mythic

state) and Politics. The ideas of vicarship and of domnei--(romantic

love and spiritual love in association) are the ideas of something better

evolving as we progress. Man embellishes with his highest illusory forms

those forces from within which drive him on--the Demiurge--the spirit of

romance. Surely it is significant that the last word of Beyond Life is

God, and God and the Demiurge are seen in Charteris' fictive mental

processes to be the same. The idea of dynamism does not foresee an end;

it postulates a kind of cosmic optimism (the wisest of the illusions): a

kind of Bergsonian ever-evolving, flowing elan vital.

The analogue here between the theory of literature and the aes-

thetically oriented cosmology is apparent. The Biography--or any fiction

that can be called art--is itself a dynamic illusion which unleashes (or

should) useful human movement or action. Any work of art has as its

basic dynamism a kind of life force, an existence as it were separate

from the literary artist (who should be analogous to the Demiurge in

Cabell's cosmology). Of course this separation of the illusion from the

spirit that engenders it becomes for the poet the essence of his seeking

for immortality. The force or spirit behind the illusion may be forgotten,

but the illusion itself generates responses which in themselves produce

new patterns of ever-improving illusions.

The literary artist rebels against the universe and the body by

playing; he seeks diversion from reality by romantic creating. Straws

and Prayer Books, the epilogue of The Biography, is an extended discussion

of this "playing" which produces a work of art. The thesis of that dis-

cussion is stated by Charteris before Cabell begins to speak for himself:

"Art, just as Schiller long ago perceived . is an outcome of the

human impulse to play, and to avoid tedium by using up such vigor as

stays unemployed by the necessities of earning a living. The artist is

life's playboy. The artist, to avert the threats of boredom, rather

desperately makes sport with the universe" (XVII, 12). Cabell expands

this theory of art as play or diversion into recapitulation of the major

themes of The Biography and his literary theory. He re-defines the uni-

verse and man's living in the same manner that he uses in Beyond Life;

then he works out the relationship between the Economic theory and the

play theory, giving attention to the complexities of the artist's motiva-

tions, particularly the novelist's. He develops what he calls a creed

based on the idea of art as a diversion.

In his art the novelist plays with common sense, piety, and death.

The first two are considered to be man-made, and the novelist may be said

to face his own creations, his playing with these guides to man's actions;

but death is the one inevitable fact of existence, and in his playing with

death the novelist may be said to face his creator, rather than one of his

own creations. The novelist, that is, the romantic novelist, plays with

common sense by ignoring it, "for common sense tempts men to be contented

with their lot, to get the most from what is theirs, and not to hanker

nonsensically after the unattainable" (XVII, 63). To this temptation

the literary artist says "BoshV" "And having uttered it, the artist pro-

ceeds to divert himself by living dozens upon dozens of lives which in

nothing resembles the starveling and inadequate existence allotted him

by the mere accident of birth" (XVII, 64). In his aversion to common

sense, to acceptance of things as they are, the literary artist is a

wizard, a magician concerned with his own self-expression.

"The literary artist . plays with piety" (XVII, 73) by recog-

nizing man's interest in "some cunning, strong, unconquerable rogue"

(XVII, 83) such as Robin Hood, Rob Roy, or Tyl Eulenspiegel. This in-

terest reflects man's desire for the forbidden and his admiration for

those who rebel against law. "Imaginative literature has tirelessly

advocated revolution, by depicting the possibilities of a more pleasure-

giving state of affairs, and in his diversion, the artist has consistently

tended to identify himself with the rogue and the lawbreaker" (XVII, 83).

Cabell further finds the explanation for the Romanticist's inclina-

tion "to glorify the breaker of laws current in the artist's lifetime"

in the failure of society to provide ". . any exact or generally

respected status for the artist. ." (XVII, 84). This failure and the

constant use of reason, which the artist alone is permitted, have led the

artist to find all "human ordering of this world, under all regimes, to

be unsatisfactory" (XVII, 84). Disliking the world he lives in, he

"diverts himself by constructing other worlds, where orderings are dif-

ferent, and to his mind, more approvable" (XVII, 86). In effect, his im-

piety is suggested by his indirect instructions to "the aggregate wisdom

of his fellows, and even of Omnipotence, how to create a more satisfactory

world" (XVII, 86). Content with no condition that he meets in life, the

romantic artists criticizes order, and attempts to impose a better one

through his own imagination. Not satisfied with being discontented, he

sets about not only "to create more interesting persons than nature cre-

ates, but to outvie nature by making his creatures durable" (XVII, 92).

To do this, he plays with ageless symbols of man's irreverence, for ex-

ample, Pan or Prometheus, or Satan.

The artist plays with death by acknowledging constantly its inevi-

tability and yet by believing that he purchases immortality beyond the

body with his works. Against piety and common-sense he pits the crea-

tions of his imagination and against death he takes an altruistic chance

that his works will receive the acclaim of posterity. He knows implicitly

that he cannot last, but he hopes that his works may. Here Cabell does

not give the audience or posterity much credit, and he says that the


who is sustained by the notion of his books' being perpetual
things cannot, after two minutes of honest thought, believe
himself to be sustained by altruism, nor by any faith in the
superior discernment of posterity. Upon no ground perceptible
to me could reason detect, the instant that reason weighed the
present rate and direction of man's progress, any marked likeli-
hood of posterity's being in anything more logical than is that
contemporaneous, so huge and so depressingly unimpressed audi-
ence which every artist must perforce condemn. Posterity in
its approach to literary matters would probably muddle forward
as man has always done, upon humanity's time-tested crutches
of hearsay and stupidity. (XVII, 254-255)

As the artist cannot rely on posterity, so he must also ignore the

attitudes and desires of his contemporary audience. His best work comes

from his playing with his own ideas and his shaping of these ideas ac-

cording to his own plans. His readers may follow the trail that he

blazes and find delight in "the by-products of his hedonism" (XVII, 35),

but the diversion he seeks is for himself and no other. The artist "who

for one half-second during his hours of play with ink and paper considers

anybody except himself is contriving a suicide without dignity" (XVII, 36).

Only insofar as he delights and interests himself will he delight and

interest his audience and contribute to the general human happiness.

The artist, like all men, seeks diversion from the universe,

society, and his own physical being; but the artist alone seeks to give

shape to his diversions, hence sharing them with other men for their

diversion. In his play, the literary artist makes sport with common

sense, piety, and death--thus making his diversion a constant rebellion.

But, for all his efforts to achieve immortality through his works, at the

last, all that the artist can be sure of having attained is his own self-


In his creation of his work the literary artist acts analogously

to God's creation as described in Genesis. M. H. Abrams has traced the

development of this commonplace analogue from Plotinus through the

Renaissance to the nineteenth century romantic critical theory and into

the twentieth century New Criticism. Cabell consistently reflects this

Neo-Platonic position: the artist is to his work as God was to Adam and

Eve. "The elect artist voluntarily purchases loneliness by a withdrawal

from the plane of common life, since only in isolation can he create. No

doubt he takes with him his memories of things observed and things en-

dured, which later may be utilized to lend plausibility and corroborative

detail: but, precisely as in the Book of Genesis, here, too, the creator

must begin in vacuo" (I, 90). Plotinus had produced this analogue "to

elevate art from the realm of flux and shadows to an eminence over all

human pursuits, in close connection to the Ideas and to God himself. The

artist, from being a craftsman, became (in a momentous new aesthetic

metaphor) a creator, for it was sometimes said that of all men the poet

is likest God because he creates according to those patterns on which God

himself has modeled the universe." This metaphor is significant because

it both raises the artist above the craftsman and becomes the major pre-

supposition for the theory of art as expression, the dominant theory of

the nineteenth century (Abrams, passim) and the major aesthetic theories

of the twentieth century as developed by Cassirer, Langer, Croce, and

Collingwood. Collingwood discusses this theory in his defense of the

verb, create, andin the prevalence of the God-Artist analogue. "To cre-

ate something means to make it non-technically, but yet consciously and

voluntarily."5 Collingwood, like Cabell, contrasts the idea of God's

creation to the universe with the artist's creation on the basis of their

respective infinite and finite being. Artists unlike God must have cir-

cumstances which enable them to create, as well as "certain expressed emo-

tions and the wherewithal to express them."6

Cabell adopts the basic Romantic conception of the artist as a cre-

ator even though he does not ignore the artist-as-craftsman theories of

Aristotle and Plato. By locating the act of creation within the mind, he

accepts "the concept of art as a mirror turned around to reflect aspects

of the artist's mind. . ." The Romantic position is "that the content

of art has an internal origin and that its shaping influences are not the

4M. H. Abrams, The Mirror and the Lamp (New York, 1958), p. 42.

5R. G. Collingwood, The Principles of Art (New York, 1958), p. 128.

Collingwood, p. 130.

ideas or principles informing the cosmic structure, but the forces in-

herent in the emotions, the desires and the evolving imaginative process
in the artist himself." The impulse to create, for Cabell, the Demiurge

or Spirit of Romance, is inherent in man's mind; the dynamic illusions

shaped by this internal force are the substance of man's immortality.

The gadfly of self-expression which stings the romantic artist

forces him away from social virtues, giving him an exaggerated opinion

of himself and making him "avoid all persons whose tastes are similar to

his," and condemning him "to continuous loneliness" (I, 146). The Demi-

urge is very powerful and "so potent and honey sweet, is the allure of

this desire to write perfectly of beautiful happenings: for all that,

it may well be the contrivance of some particularly sardonic-minded devil:

and beyond doubt, if follow the desire you must, you will be the wiser for

scrutinizing its logic none too closely. You had best yield blindly to

the inborn instinct, and write as well as you possibly can, much as the

coral zoophyte builds his atoll, without any theorizing" (I, 145). This

desire is the only emotion that the creative artist yields to, because he

must become so callous that he observes any emotion "as potentially an

interesting topic to write about" (I, 148). Driven toward immortality to

be attained through his objectified dreams which he has "snared with

comely and fit words," he separates himself voluntarily from ordinary

human intercourse.

The artist subjugates himself to all the demands of his desire. He

7Abrams, p. 46.
Abrams, p. 46.

uses his physical self, but the expenditure is worth it, "the game is

worth the candle." The poet's body becomes a battleground wherein "the

human brain is perverted to uses for which, as first planned against

arboreal requirements, it was perhaps not especially designed" (I, 89).

He knows his body is "a cunning and elaborate piece of mechanism . ."

and "an apparatus wherein something might conceivably be done." With

this loaned machinery "these covetous-minded persons, the creative writ-

ers--the poets, the poietai, the 'makers'--endeavor . to make some-

thing permanent." This desire "to get enduring increment of his body"

guides "the craftsman in that creative literature wherethrough a man per-

petuates his dreams." (I, 88). He chooses his dreams over his body and

once the dream is written down "its creator may usurp the brain-cells and

prompt the flesh of generations born long after his own carnal loans are

dust" (I, 89).

The alternative choice is the universe and the body as it is, the

acceptance of reason and fact as the sole attention for men. Reason would

have man accept his physical inferiority to all that shares the universe

with him, and to acquiesce to the facts that are everywhere apparent, even

in the mirror. Realism is the name given to this alternative, the enemy

of Romance. It is the constant reminder that men are "mediocre creatures'

(I, 27). The begetting, slaying, abnegating, and toiling of man are its

subject matter; the dreaming is evaded. Realism is the fallacy that "our

mile-posts are as worthy of consideration as our goals; and that the es-

pecial post we are now passing reveals an eternal verity. As a matter of

fact, mile-posts by ordinary [sic] reveal the pretension of a tradesman

who believes in advertising, which very possibly accounts for the manner

of our more generally esteemed 'realists' in every field of human action.

So, realism, too, becomes an art of sorts, a minor art, like music or hair-

dressing. 'Realism' is the art of being superficial seriously" (I, 246-

247). Dwelling upon mannerisms of the moment, it misses the truth that

imagination, the power of Romance, would certainly have revealed.

This antithesis between the universe and defiant man's imaginative

self-expression about his place in that universe, is the philosophical

basis of Cabell's conception of the artist and his work. It is also the

basis for Cabell's conception of history and ethics. The literary theory

is never too far removed from the ethical theory; imaginative self-expres-

sion is man's highest development whether in his arts or his religious

systems or his political notions.

The universe and the life within that universe which the poet

makes use of must not control his product, but they are nonetheless neces-

sary to him. Art is derived from the everlasting tension between the uni-

verse as it is and as it ought to be. "'Art . is an expurgated edi-

tion of nature: at art's touch, too, 'the drossy particles fall off and

mingle with the dust.'" (I, 190). The artist works with his imaginative

self-expression but there can be no separation between his imagination

and his intellect. "Precisely as the sculptor's inspiration must conform

to his supply of marble, so must romance be trammeled by working in the

rarer and more stubborn medium of human intelligence" (I, 125).

The creative process involved in this working of the Demiurge

through the materials of reason and behavior is the central concern of

Cabell's theory of literature. All creative artists must face this

choice and in some way reach a compromise between their existence as

artists and their animal natures--the antithesis of "things as they are"

and things "as they ought to be" is reflected in the mind of the creative

writer. The Economist, or elect artist or the truly creative artist makes

his compromise and strives "to create against the last reach of futurity

that which was not anywhere before he made it. He breaks his implements

with ruthless usage; he ruins all that time will loan: meanwhile, the

work goes forward, with fair promise" (I, 94). Inevitably the purchase

price of his body's destruction must be set against the enduring value of

the finished work. The term, Economy, to Cabell is synonymous with great

literature, i.e., the best expenditure of life for art. A high point of

this literary theory comes in Charteris' resume of the auctorial virtues--

the closest Cabell comes to setting forth a kind of poetics for the

Economist. Charteris (really Cabell) is perturbed that Cabell (really

Guy Holt) had thought that he (Charteris) was talking all Walpurgis Eve

about rules for producing novels. Charteris feels that he has been dis-

cussing man, the universe, the spirit, and art. Cabell's attack is solid-

ly on the literary side--the logical weaknesses of the literary theorizing,

but Charteris is appalled that he has talked so long without being under-

stood. Jarred by his failure to communicate, the fictional voice of

Cabell answers the fictional voice of Holt (posing as Cabell) by a

carefully orchestrated coda in which he defines the auctorial virtues as

qualities to be desired in literature because they are not to be found

(or experienced) in life.. In the term virtue and in the manner of defin-

ing the qualities: distinction, symmetry, clarity, beauty, tenderness,

truth, and urbanity, Cabell suggests the overlapping of ethical and

literary theory.

Through fiction the novelist seeks to distinguish himself, to ac-

quire universality and immortality which is outside his physical, worldly

limitations. "In art it may so happen that the thing which a man makes

endures to be misunderstood and gabbled over: yet it is not the man him-

self. We retain the Iliad, but oblivion has swallowed Homer so deep that

many question if he ever existed at all . ." (I, 262). Distinction for

an individual man is impossible to conceive in "the long progress of

suns, whereby is thought to separate the personality of any one man from

all the others that have lived, becomes a task to stagger Omniscience" (I,

262). Art is the only possible means of perpetuity, the one means of be-

ing different from "this throng of human ephemerae and all their millions

and inestimable millions of millions of predecessors and oncoming progeny"

(I, 261).

Faced with the universe and lacking any knowledge of its intention

and purpose, the writer seeks to impose symmetry and clarity on life to

make it intelligible. The writer revolts against the "tyranny of matter"

--"against life's absolute need of food, and books, and fire, and cloth-

ing, and flesh, to touch and to inhabit, lest life perish . ." (I, 263).

His creative effort, his desire for order and explanation in his objec-

tive realization of his dreams, is a desire to alleviate his sense that

life is "all a muddling thought, somehow without any recognizable goal

in view, and . no explanation of the scuffle tendered or anywhere

procurable"(I, 264).

Beauty is synonymous with perfection, ideal form, or completeness,

which is always just beyond reach. For Charteris, beauty is best defined

symbolically in the life of a butterfly which is "such a graceful ges-

ture: and yet in that its loveliness is complete and perfectly rounded

in itself" (I, 264). The beauty fiction should have is the beauty of

the butterfly's "bright flicker through existence" (I, 264). The beauty

the poet seeks is flawless and he divines that it exists somewhere but

nothing in human life contains or suggests it.

Tenderness in books alleviates the need for likeable people,

people who have "generally distributed qualities which entitle them as a

race to admiration and affection" (I, 266). Honesty, trust, and openness

in dealing with other beings must offset suspicion, posing and conceal-

ment or misrepresentation that characterizes human dealings with one

another. Peoplein books must bring forth "tenderness and caressing

words, in part because they deserve it, and in part because I know they

will not suspect me of being queer or of having ulterior motives .. ."

(I, 266).

Truth, as an auctorial virtue, opposes consciousness of physical

actuality, that "phantasmagoria of sound and noise and color" which may

or may not be illusion. It is man's lot to be "a very gullible conscious-

ness provisionally existing among inexplicable mysteries." Truth in fic-

tion is "certainty" or a shaping of sensations.

And, finally, urbanity, the highest and rarest virtue, is toler-

ance of the unfamiliar. The urbane person would be alien to the world

as it is because he would be "a mortal open-minded and affable to con-

viction of his own shortcomings and errors, and unguided in anything by

irrational blind prejudices (I, 267). Urbanity would, in effect, be

compassion, commiseration, and empathy "to that piteous thing called

human nature" (I, 267). Intolerance being the essence of the history

of the human race, the literary artist should reflect absolute toler-

ance--an idealized romantic vision rather than the world as it is.

Cabell's insistence upon intrinsic auctorial virtues in a liter-

ary work is a kind of marriage between the classical and neoclassical

theories of art as craft, as perfected representations of nature, and

the theory of art as expression originating within the artist. The key

event in the shift from craft to expression had also brought the poem

into a more significant position than that suggested by mimesis of "the

mirror of nature." For the Romantic theorist the poem became a hetero-

cosm, a second nature, which must be judged by criteria intrinsic to its

own being.8 This idea had been prevalent in the Renaissance and it was

to come into prominence again in twentieth century criticism (See Austin

Warren, Rage for Order, 1948), with the idea of the poem as a heterocosm

there came a new emphasis on the analogy between God and the Artist. If

the poem is a whole cosmos then its creator certainly takes on aspects of

God.9 Both ideas, the poet as the point of greater interest in critical

theory and the poem as the major critical concern, are synthesized in

Cabell's expressive--objective fictive theory, his notion of imaginative

literature finely crafted.

Abrams, p. 262.

9Abrams, p. 272.

The movement of Cabell's thought is a combined metaphysical cos-

mological, ethical, moral, psychological, progression through skepticism

to a final affirmation which does not throw out the skepticism but opti-

mistically accepts the duality of the sensate physical and the illusory,

demiurgic spirit. The act of believing in practical matters, in re-

ligious ritual, in politics, in domnei, in God's love for man recipro-

cated and in the world beyond life--"as it ought to be"--whatever the act

of believing may be is guided by the dynamic illusions. God may be an

illusion; man's relationship to God, man himself may be an illusion, but

there is in Cabell's affirmation an acceptance of the illusions for their

perhaps illusionary worth which he feels exist though he doesn't know they


The Biography once completed is outside Cabell as its demiurge--

its Author--and he can feel only gratitude for the act of working it out--

of seeing the dynamic illusions, within the work--of reviewing the various

fictions as they now seem to have lives of their own. He believes unques-

tionably that he has "written beautifully of beautiful happenings" which

was his set purpose in 1907 when the young Cabell produced the first book

of The Biography--The Eagle's Shadow. Of course as The Biography is

finished he embellishes (elaborates) this desire into both an ethic and a

theory of literature involving the auctorial virtues to which "romance

directs all the affairs of life . distinction and clarity, and

beauty and symmetry, and tenderness and truth and urbanity" (I, 141).




The major terms and premises of the Cabellian theory of litera-

ture receive continuing development throughout The Biography. Cabell's

fictive world is filled with characters who embody some or all of his

literary ideas and who enrich those ideas through their complex actions

and dialogue. The abstractions are constantly objectified in fictional

terms. It would be a mistake to refer to these personae as only figures

of allegory or walking ideas, however, for they are always much more than

that. Cabell's novels and short stories are composed of adventure and

social comedy intrigue, but they are also augmented with discussions about

literary matters and with actions that have literary significance. At the

center of most of the actions is a poet-hero and closely related to him

there are always women who stand outside the creative act but serve as

catalystic agents in the poet's life. All of Cabell's poet-heroes are

human; some of the female characters are human, some are supernatural cre-

ative figures--gods and demi-gods--who omnipotently set events in motion,

complicate the action, and respond to earthly happenings with intrigue

within their own ranks. The literary theory is an integral part of both

the human and the supernatural actions of the poet-heroes, the women, and

the other-worldly figures.


The actions of Cabell's poet heroes are governed by three attitudes:

chivalry, gallantry, and poetry. Chivalry was "an intelligent attitude

in which one spun romances and afforded no meticulous attention to mere

facts . ." (I, 38). The chivalrous hero considers himself a vicar of

God on earth, and his living is a testing to prove his worthiness for

that illusion of himself. The gallant hero, on the other hand, accepts

"the pleasures of life leisurely and its inconvenience with a shrug" (I,

101). He is "a well-balanced sceptic who comprehends that he knows very

little, and probably amounts to somewhat less, but has the grace to keep

his temper" (I, 102). Finally, the poet-hero is driven by the desire to

make something endurable out of the raw materials of life. Cabell uses

the term, poet, to include all creating or making: literary artists are

poets, God is a poet, and some historical personages, such as Nero, lead

lives that are poetry in the sense that their legends are endurable cre-

ations. To make out of life what will endure is to adopt the poetic


The Biography of the Life of Dom Manuel, with its complicated gene-

alogical substructure (see The Line of Lichfield, a genealogical charting

of the intricate familial and ideological relationships of The Biography),

is a fictional presentation of the evolution of these attitudes from

Medieval Poictesme to Modern Virginia. The three major archetypal charac-

ters of the work are Manuel, Jurgen, and Madoc, representing respectively

the chivalrous, the gallant, and the poetic attitudes.

All of Cabell's modern poet heroes are direct descendents of Manuel

or Jurgen, but their spirits share Madoc's attitude. Manuel begins as a

poet--an image maker--but he turns away from creating to become the

redeemer of Poictesme. His rejection of image-making is a rejection of

language for a life of action. "Words are only transitory voices, where-

as man is the child of God, and has an immortal spirit" (II, 126-127).

Manuel discovers that image-makers are a tribe of ugly, rickety and short-

tempered men who despise all people unable to make images. Alone and

miserable in the world of image making, Manuel turns away from Freydis

and Audela and chooses a life of action.

Freydis, there is no way in which two persons may meet
in this world of men: we can but exchange, from afair,
despairing friendly signals, in the knowledge that they
will be misinterpreted. So do we pass, each coming out
of a strange woman's womb, each parodied by the flesh of
his parents, each passing futilely, with incommunicative
gesture, toward the womb of a strange grave and in this
jostling we find no comradeship. No soul may travel upon
a bridge of words. Indeed there is no word for my foiled
huge desire to love and to be loved, just as there is no
word for the big, the not quite comprehended thought which
is moving in me at this moment. But that thought also is a
grief--. (II, 129-130)

Manuel's notion of himself as the vicar of God clearly encompasses God's

poetic aspect--if God created life, so can man. Man's attempt, however,

is a failure when he uses words.

Jurgen, we are told, is an ex-poet but we are never shown the na-

ture of his works. He has given up poetry to be a pawnbroker. The poetic

aspects of his life are no doubt those elaborate imaginative excursions

in which he indulges. His imagination--his lies about Manuel's dying in

Poictesme--becomes the basis of Manuel's religious cult in Poictesme.

Jurgen's poetic imagination is the impetus for the later elaborations

about Manuel's life which become the guiding dynamic illusion for the

country. In his middle age he skeptically accepts the fabrications of

the religion he knows to be based on his own childish falsehood. Ironi-

cally, he looks upon the legend he helped shape. Having been deeply in-

volved in the illusion of chivalry as represented in the Legend of Dom

Manuel, he stands outside that legend. Knowing the nature of the fictions,

which guide men, he accepts those fictions for the good they engender

though he is much aware of the actualities which they conceal.

Manuel and Jurgen abandon poetry for chivalry and gallantry and as

the lineal ancestors of all the modern poet heroes in The Biography they

leave some of this basic antagonism between two of man's images of him-

self to their descendents. Significantly, Madoc, the only absolute depic-

tion of complete subservience to the poetic attitude, is not a part of

the genealogical structure of The Biography. He is, however, no less the

spiritual ancestor of the modern poet hero than are Manuel and Jurgen.

Madoc, the poet-hero of Music from Behind the Moon, is the medieval arche-

type of Cabell's modern literary artists, particularly Musgrave and Ken-

naston. In this brief prose work, the poetic attitude is treated with-

out the heavy overlay of allusion and conundrum so typical of Something

About Eve and The Cream of the Jest.

Madoc, a mediocre poet, was dissatisfied with his poems because

they lacked order and ". . they strained toward a melody which stayed

forever uncaptured; and they all seemed to him to be thin parodies of an

elvish music, not wholly of this earth, some part of which he had heard

long ago and had half-forgotten, but the whole of which remained unheard

by mortal ears" (IV, 252). The forgotten music, a music perhaps associ-

ated with a spiritual existence beyond life and time, returns to Madoc'-

when he sees Ettarre, the witchwoman, and hears her playing on her heart-

strings. Unsettled by discontent with his songs and the otherworldly

skirling "music from behind the moon," he leaves the court in search of

her. Thus begins his journey toward perfect poetic self-expression.

On this journey he meets Jonathas, the Wise, who tells him that

once he has heard the music, there will be no rest for his imagination.

"There is for a poet no defense against their [the witchwomen's] malice,

because their weapon is that song which is an all consuming fire. Still

as one nail drives out another nail, and as one fire consumes another, so

something may be done against the destroying pain with this" (IV, 254).

Whereupon Jonathas gives the poet a large quill pen "fashioned out of a

feather which had fallen from the black wings of Lucifer, the Father of

all Lies" (IV, 254). Here with greater clarity than in his other fiction

about poets, Cabell emphasizes his belief in the magical and diabolical

origins of poetry.

The quill pen makes Madoc a more successful poet, if not a better

one. He writes patriotic songs, songs glorifying death in war, and op-

timistic songs to comfort the people; but always he hears the skirling

music which derides these songs and reveals the truth. "For always when

his music soared at its most potent he heard the skirling music, which

was all a doubtfulness and a discontent" (IV, 263).

Madoc as a successful, popular poet is trapped by "the puzzle of

all artists." His commercial success wars with his indistinct notions of

what his art could be. There is no audience for his true self-expression,

only his magic potions of comfortable song. "No other person willed to

hear a music which doubtfulness and discontent made overpoignant. They

thronged, instead, to hear the sugared and grandiose music which Madoc

peddled, and which, like a drug, buoyed up its hearers with self-approval

as concerned the present and with self-confidence as touched what was to

come" (IV, 264). Freeing himself from this puzzle he continues his search

for Ettarre, the source of his inspiration. Maya of the Fair Breasts sup-

plies him with a hippogriffin for his journey toward "the pale mists and

the naked desert space behind the moon." This place throbs with Ettarre's

music: ". . it seemed the heartbeat of the universe, and the wind that

moved between the stars was attuned to its doubtfulness and discontent"

(IV, 271). He frees Ettarre and returns with her to earth where she

ceases to sing, but he comes to accept his "comfortable and uplifting

songs." Ettarre's domestic instinct overcomes her music, and Madoc com-

promises his art for security. However, upon Ettarre's death, the "music

unheard through all the years in which he had held Ettarre away from her

lunar witcheries to be his bedfellow upon Earth . ." returns. (IV, 286).

Again he becomes a vagabond--"a trifle crazed, a trifle ragged, but ut-

terly satisfied to follow after that music which none other heard" (IV,

287). Of this brief, allegorical tale Davis says: "More concisely and

drastically than any of Cabell's fiction about poets, The Music From Be-

hind the Moon defines the end of poetry's quest as the supernal beauty

described by Poe in 'The Poetic Principle.' Like Shelley's Alastor and

Keats's Endymion, it conceives this quest as the life long pursuit of an

illusive perfection. Like Poe's 'Israfel' and Rossetti's 'The Blessed

Damozel' it eulogizes the chasm that divides the realm of essence from

the realm of matter."1 Madoc is the purest, the most unadorned repre-

sentation of the poet in the whole of The Biography. In the starkly al-

legorical presentation of him, Cabell gives his contemporary poet-heroes

a forerunner less complicated by the other attitudes. None of the later

poet-heroes are direct descendents of Madoc, but they share in part some

of his attributes. It is as though Madoc were a distillation of the po-

etic attitude in pure form, in an earlier more rigidly ordered age--

Medieval France. The later appearances of the poetic attitude are com-

plicated by vacant forces within the characters which are no doubt derived

from their lineal forefathers, Manuel and Jurgen.

Cabell examines the modern poet-hero in Beyond Life, Cords of Van-

ity, Something About Eve, and The Cream of the Jest. John Charteris,

Robert Townsend, Richard Harrowby, Gerald Musgrave, and Felix Kennaston

embody various aspects of the poetic attitude in its complex interrela-

tionship with both the chivalrous and the gallant attitudes. Charteris,

Townsend, and Harrowby represent the ascendency of the gallant attitude

over the poetic; Gerald Musgrave represents the failures of the chivalric

and the poetic attitudes and Felix Kennaston represents the ultimate co-

alition of the three attitudes--vicarship, skepticism, and creativity.

John Charteris, the Fairhaven novelist, makes frequent appearances

throughout The Biography as the town's most famous novelist and philander-

er; but his most significant appearances occur in the prologue, Beyond

Life, where he talks about literature all Walpurgis Eve, and in the epi-

Joe Lee Davis, James Branch Cabell (New York, 1962), p. 112.

logue, Straws and Prayerbooks, where he is summarily dispatched by Cabell

who has tired of speaking his literary theory through Charteris' charac-


The format of Beyond Life is a nightlong literary discussion, a

one-sided exchange of ideas between Cabell and Charteris. Charteris

dominates the conversation with what amounts t a series of loosely

constructed essays treating the main tenets of the theory of literature

and illustrating that theory with impressionistic discussion of favorite

writers--Marlowe, Villon, Sheridan, Wycherly, Congreve, Dickens, and

Thackeray. This monologue is in essence a peculiarly involved glimpse

at some biographical details concerning the lives of these men and some

highly opinionated responses to their major works. The emphasis is un-

questionably on biographical details, but the writers are introduced "as

illustrations of his (Charteris' ) theory as to the working code of

romance." The nature of Charteris' critical viewpoint about the writers

is caught in his comments about Christopher Marlowe who in the manner of

a true Economist "wasted health and repute, and even lost his life in

pursuit of pot-house dissipation" (I, 70). He is a writer whose "utter-

ance is lacking in that element triteness without which no work of art

can ever be of general appeal in a world of mostly mediocre people" (I,


As Charteris talks, the reader is aware that the voice is a cre-

ation, a fictional character speaking literary ideas which must be re-

ceived as fictions or illusions. The theory of literature is ever sub-

jected to a kind of Socratic dialogue in which the author appearing as

himself attacks his ideas as expressed by one of his characters. Cabell

speaks critically of Charteris' views:

Well, I shall generously say at outset that not in a
long time have I heard a discourse so insincere. It is
an apology for romance by a man who believes that romance
is dead beyond resurrection; and who considers, therefore,
that to romance may be attributed every imaginable virtue,
without any imaginable consequence. It is a tissue of wild
errors, deceitfully glossed with the unreasonableness of a
person who is really in earnest; so that I confess, I was at
first quite taken in, and fancied you to be lamenting with
honest grief the world's lost youth. (I, 245-246)

The warning implicit in this self-examination is that the reader must ab-

sorb nothing too quickly; he must be made aware that the theorist, Char-

teris, may be some wizard--controlled inhabitant of a witches' Sabbath.

(Witching nights are Cabell's favorite settings for literary discussions

and dream allegories.) Charteris is both Cabell's mouthpiece and his best

playing with a kind of mirror image in which he can see himself as a poet

and criticize the somewhat loquacious reflection.

Charteris' role in Beyond Life continues in Cords of Vanity where

he becomes the major critic of Townsend's literary work.

The Cords of Vanity, the most important depiction of the gallant

attitude as it was in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Vir-

ginia, is a satirical examination of the novel writing practices of the

period. The work presents a rebellion against the idealized vision of

the literary artist as reflected in Beyond Life. Robert Etheridge Town-

send, for the most part of the novel, narrates an account of his love

affairs in which he learns "to accept the pleasures of life leisurely and

its inconveniences with a shrug" (XII, ix). During the time of this

growth toward sophistication, he also becomes a successful novelist and

short story writer with the encouragement of Charteris.

Charteris and Townsend have several discussions of literary art

in which Charteris is less the talker than he is in Beyond Life, and more

the listener to a point of view which is opposed to his own. In his ad-

vice to Townsend concerning a literary career, Charteris says: "You have

the ability . that dances most gracefully in fetters. You will never

write convincingly about the life you know, because life is to you . .

a series of continuous miracles, to which the eyes of other men are case-

hardened. Write me, then, a book about the past'" (XII, 90). He sug-

gests that Townsend become an Economist, but this is rejected as "abso-

lute and unmoral nonsense." Writing for posterity's acclaim is of no

consequence to Townsend because, in the true spirit of the gallant atti-

tude, he lives wholly in the present. He cannot understand what benefit

is to be gained for the author, such as Charteris, who writes for poster-

ity. He wants "to be read and to be a power" while he can appreciate the

fact that he is "a sort of power, howsoever insignificant." At the out-

set of his career, he plans to write "with his tongue in his cheek,"

which he considers "the one and only attitude . in which to write if

you indeed desire to be read with enjoyment" (XII, 93).

To support this attitude, Townsend sermonizes in defense of the

best-seller. Unlike all of Cabell's novelist heroes and Cabell himself,

Townsend studies the demand of the contemporary audience and supplies

fiction to suit that demand. He accuses Charteris of overlooking "the

single achievement of the nineteenth century--the relegation of its

literature to the pharmacopoeia" (XII, 93). Fiction has, in this view,

as its main purpose to cause relaxation, to uplift by diverting, to in-

toxicate and to hypnotize. The successful writer of fiction that sells

must "avoid bothering the reader's intelligence . ." by remembering

"the crass emotions of half-educated persons are his chosen keyboard"

(XII, 94). Townsend abhors Charteris' expression, "the dignity of

literature" and replaces it with the most elemental premise of literary

discussion: the book I like is a good book. "A novel which has diverted

a thousand semi-illiterate persons is exactly ten times as good as a novel

that has pleased a hundred superior persons" (XII, 95). To Charteris

writing is "an art rather than a business"; to Townsend this is a silly

position that ignores "the touchstone of any artist" which is

. the skill with which he adopts his craftsmanship to
his art's limitations. . The most important limitations
in the writing of fiction nowadays is that you have to ap-
peal to people who would never think of reading you or any-
body else, if they could possibly imagine any other employ-
ment for that particular vacant half hour. And you cannot
hope for an audience of even intelligent persons, because
intelligent persons do not attempt to keep abreast with
modern fiction. It is probably ascribable to the fact that
they enjoy being intelligent, and wish to remain so. (XII, 95)

At the outset, then, Townsend sees the main limitation on the fiction

writer's success to be his audience. For his theory the audience is far

more important than the quality of the work or the artist's integrity in

producing that work. His position is directly opposed to Charteris' at

this point, because it insists on a place of importance for the audience

that receives a work of art. His derogatory notion of the quality of

audiences is a direct statement of what is implied in the slighting of

the audience's importance throughout the other discussions of literary

theory. The final sardonic statement of this position makes the

commercially successful writer the ultimate artist.

The writing of a frankly trashy novel which will 'sell'
is the highest imaginable form of art. For true art, in
its last terms, is the adroit circumvention of an insur-
mountable obstacle. I suppose that form and harmony and
color are very difficult to tame; and the sculptor, the mu-
sician and the painter quite probably earn their hire. But
people don't go to concerts unless they want to hear music;
whereas people who buy the 'best seller' are the people who
would prefer to do anything else conceivable rather than, in
Cabell's phrase, be reduced to reading. I protest that the man
who makes these half-wits labor on until they see how 'it will
come out' is a great deal more than an artist; he is a
sorcerer. (XII, 96)

Townsend's artist is clearly no Economist and at this stage he seems to

be committing artistic suicide according to Cabell's discussions of the

means of becoming a great literary artist. As well he might, Charteris

condemns the whole argument, calling it a rehashing of "Cabell's pla-

giarized nonsense"; but, he admonishes Townsend to write the book any-

way, perceiving, perhaps, that the true process of writing as he conceives

it will take hold and exclude the drive toward commercial success.

The Apostate, Townsend's first novel, written according to his

formula, is an immediate success; the author calls it "a medley of con-

ventional tricks and extravagant rhetoric inanimate by any least particle

of myself. . The book was the most unbridled kind of balderdash" and

"the very current mode of 1900" (XII, 97). His second novel is based on

one of his affairs; it, too, becomes an immediate success. For the third

novel, he briefly plans to write a book in the manner of Mrs. Gaskell's

Cranford, with Fairhaven's provincialism as its subject; upon reflection

he discovers a truth about the relationship between the real world that

one experiences and the possibilities of successfully fictionalizing that

world. "For to write convincingly of the persons peculiar to any locality

it is necessary either to have thoroughly misunderstood them, or else per-

servingly to have been absent from daily intercourse with them until age

has hardened the brain cells and you have forgotten what your quodam as-

sociates were really like. Then, alone, may you write character studies

which will be sufficiently abundant in quantities and local flavor" (XII,

165). By the third novel, Townsend's position is clearly moving toward

Charteris' notion about the necessary distance between the literary ar-

tist's experience and his conversion of those experiences into literature.

Obviously Townsend is becoming more interested in the nature of the work,

in the qualities he can attain without considering the audience's taste.

He puts aside the plan to use Fairhaven and turns to the idea of writing

an idyllic novel about young love, a novel in which style is uppermost;

however, he recognizes that he will lose his audience. "But I had some-

how contracted an insane notion that a novel is the more enjoyable when it

is adroitly written. In point of fact, of course, no man who writes with

care is ever read with pleasure; you may toil through a page or two perhaps,

but presently you are noting how precisely every word is fitted to the

thought, and later you are noting nothing else. You are insensibly be-

guiled into a fidgety-footed analysis of every clause, which fatigues in

the outcome, and by the tenth page you are yawning" (XII, 186). The con-

cern for style and the knowledge of its effect on his readers leads to a

position commensurate with that expressed in Straws and Prayerbooks: "A

man writes admirable prose not at all for the sake of having it read, but

for the more sensible reason that he enjoys playing solitaire" (XII, 187).

Townsend's idyllic novel never is tested against the audience because the

other party of the affair on which it is based writes her own novel using

the plot.

Townsend's career as a novelist reaches its pinnacle when Charteris

with whom he has disagreed at the beginning of his career praises some of

his short stories. Having moved to a position more closely akin to Char-

teris', Townsend desires to meet the standards set in that critical theory

through a clear fictionalization of the poetic attitude which achieves

some dominance over the skeptical and worldly gallant attitude.

Gerald Musgrave, an early nineteenth-century Virginia novelist, is

the poet-hero of Something About Eve. He is writing a romance "about the

high loves of his famous ancestor Dom Manuel of Poictesme," with the main

purpose of giving America "a literature superior to that of other coun-

tries." He alone of the American Musgraves has adopted the poetic atti-

tude to become a member of the clan of Madoc ". . who was neither chival-

rous nor gallant, but merely a poet,--a never-idle 'maker'; and to whom

all human life afforded, in the ultimate, only to raw material which his

half-trained imaginings might remake into something more comely, more

symmetrical, and more diverting" (X, x).

At the beginning of the novel, Gerald has lost patience with writ-

ing and has acquired a taste for magic; he escapes from the confinement

of his literary career and his sex-life with Evelyn Townsend by making a

bargain with a Sylan, Glaum of the Haunting Eyes. Sylan wishes to enjoy

the fine sense of physical existence, and Gerald wishes to excel in "the

unjustly neglected art of the magician." For him the source of the great

and best words of magic is the Master Philologist who rules Antan with

his wife, Queen Freydis. Gerald and the Sylan exchange places and Ger-

ald's spirit begins a journey toward Antan.

His spiritual journey through the Marches of Antan is marked by a

series of episodes in which Gerald is tempted away from his artistic goal

by his own desires. Mother Sereda, the eternal female principle, sends

her daughters to tempt Gerald. His contacts with these mythical temp-

resses, Eve's daughters--Evadne, Evasherah, Evavan, and Evaine--are thinly

veiled sexual episodes in which the consummation of physical involvement

is checked by his feelings that they represent partial reflections of his

ideal dream woman. Sereda notes these failures but says that they do not

matter because it is not the female alone that words to detain the roman-

tic spirit. "He travels . with his assured betrayers and the road he

follows, that also, is lively enough and long enough to betray him in the

end. For he will meet other of my daughters; and if all else fails, he

will meet me" (X, 61). She admonishes her daughters that "one has to

perserve with these romantics, no matter how hard the task may seem!"

(X, 61).

Gerald seems to be aware that he is the source of these dreams of

desirable women; as he observes one of them, he feels that "he is observ-

ing himself and the thing happening to this careful, this well-poised,

fastidious, parched rather pitiable Gerald whom for so many years he has

known." (X, 92). These dream women are representations in each case of

some part of his idealized vision of "unflawed beauty, seemingly not ever

to be found upon this earth" (X, 95). Each of them offers him "an untruth

that shall make him free" to pursue a living "among bright shadows very

futilely" but with happiness.

Faced with this overwhelming and redundant evidence that all human

existence is governed by Two Truths that govern the Marches of Antan, "we

copulate and die," Gerald optimistically reaffirms his belief in a goal

beyond life and in the divine order and symmetry of life.

I am persuaded that in the goal of all the gods there
is a more august power than any which men know of here-
abouts assuredly. For I note the sympathy and compassion
and love and self-denial which huim'n beings display toward one
another, after all, rather copeously. I reflect that every
art is a form of self-expression and I deduce that the artist
who created human beings was prompted in his embodiment of all
these qualities by sheer egotism. He observed these quali-
ties in his own nature: he approved of them: and so he em-
bodied them. No actually reflective person, therefore, will
ever imagine that human life does not go forward toward some
kindly winding up, since none who finds philanthropy in his
own heart can doubt that philanthropy exists in the head of
his creator. (X, 148-149)

His imaginative powers still unharmed by his physical desire and

his dreams of something beyond sexual fulfillment, Gerald is finally con-

fronted by Mother Sereda herself. With a magic potion he changes her in-

to a more youthful and more desirable Maya of the Fair Breasts. The temp-

tresses having failed to lead Gerald into an illusionary phallic world,

Maya resorts to passive femininity and an idyllic domestic life. In a

cottage filled with rose-colored mirrors and with the aid of rose colored

glasses, she seduces him away from his goal--Antan. From the serenity

of Mispec Moor, Antan seems to Gerald "to be uniformly wonderful." He

feels that in certainty he has a better imaginative vision of happenings

there than could ever be enacted.

His stay on Mispec Moor (Compromise) is a period in which he

questions other figures who move toward Antan. This section of the

novel is a long series of conversations with poets, myths, legends, and

historical persons. His dialogues with Nero, Villon, Odysseus, Neo,

Merlin, and Tannhauser gradually convince him that he need journey no

further. With the desire to achieve Antan on the wane, he attempts to

discover the nature of his goal indirectly. Over and over he asks these

figures why they are going to Antan, but he gets no definite answers.

Gradually, he comes to understand that they go not because they know the

nature of the goal, but because of their own dissatisfaction with the

world behind them. This realization and the quality of his own imagin-

ings about Antan lead him toward the conclusion that such unknown but

idealistically imagined goals are best left unattained. Antan, he recog-

nizes, is a kind of death of the creative spirit when attained.

The desire to go having been dissolved by both domestic and imagin-

ative contentment, Musgrave is quickly returned to his library and the

work of chronicling man's sexual behavior throughout history. Through

Sereda's magic his romantic imagination is replaced by a concern for re-

alistic scholarly research into the complexities of the Two Truths. With

his research comes fame and the favors of married women.

None of Gerald's decisions is forced upon him. He is an agent of

his own condition; his final attitude succumbs to his physical needs and

his curiosity. Gerald Musgrave, then, is a characterization of the

literary artist who attempts to push his powers beyond his limitations.

He is doomed from the start by his condition as a man never to attain his

goal, which is his own illusion. His final acceptance of what he is as a

man deprives him of the poetic attitude, but it restores him to a

successful existence as a human being. The condition of being satisfied

destroys the power of Romance within him.

Felix Kennaston makes his first appearance in The Eagle's Shadow

(1905) and later becomes the central figure of The Cream of the Jest

(1917), the climatic fiction of The Biography and the book most completely

devoted to a modern examination of the poetic attitude.

In the course of The Eagle's Shadow's complicated Austen-like plot

of suitors and maidens, Kennaston's major action is a reading from his

own book, Defense of Ignorance, an attack on truth in art and life: "In

art, the bare truth must, in mere gallantry, he accorded a petticoat, of

paint or of painted goods, to hide her nakedness; and, in life, truth is

a disastrous virtue that we have united to commend and award." (XV, 124).

The conclusion and major point of Kennaston's hook foreshadows the arrival

of the Philistine in Pseudopolis, a major incident in Jurgen. (The

Philistines come with the avowed purpose to explain away all of the Greek

myths and legends.) Kennaston complains that there are "too many inquir-

ies, doubts, investigations, discoveries, and apologies" (XVI, 126).

History and mythology, indeed all imaginative stories about Joan of Arc,

Aaron Burr, Shakespeare, and Zeus are being dispelled and explained.

"Mythology--the poet's necessity, the fertile mother of his invention--

has become a series of atmospheric phenomena, and the labors of Hercules

prove to be a dozen weather bulletins" (XV, 127). Thus Kennaston is

first seen as a detached novelist who opposes realism in life as well as

in fictional presentation of life. This premise is developed in an essay

that foreshadows the content of Beyond Life and Straws and Prayerbooks.

In his later role as the poet-hero of The Cream of the Jest, Felix

Kennaston represents the poetic attitude in modern setting; he is a man

using the raw materials of human life to divert himself and to assure his

own immortality. By means of the Sigil of Scoteia, he lives in a dream

world, ever seeking hut not touching Ettarre, the female creative inspira-

tion. In his dreams he is Horvendile, wandering through history, fiction,

mythology, and folklore. The concentration in this novel is on Kennaston's

feelings and sensations and his imaginative working within his dream ex-

periences. The Cream of the Jest explores Felix's dream world and his

self-analysis and self-realization of the nature of literature, reality,

and the universe. It is a self-justifying expression of a creed in which

Felix distills his thoughts from his dreams much as Cabell distills his

notions in Beyond Life and Straws and Prayerbooks.

Chapters entitled "Eppur Si Muove" and "Evolution of a Vestryman"

are the most conclusive statements of Felix's literary theory. As he

moves through history in his dreams, Kennaston comes to understand that

man progresses "through irrational and astounding blunders, whose out-

rageousness bedwarfs the wildest cliches of romance" (XVI, 137). He

sees that man evolves by happenstance toward "greater efficiency and

comeliness" (XVI, 137). Mankind like the characters in his novels is

moved by a puppet-shifter who appears "to seek, at once, utility and ar-

tistic self-expression" (XVI, 137-138). In this world's history, human

inhabitancy is not very important, considering how short a time there

has been life.

Dwarfed by his sense of time and of the brevity of life, Kennaston

poses the question, "Why is Kennaston?" Religion does not satisfy him

because he distrusts the simile that describes the relationship between

divinity and man as that of a father and his children. He rejects the

chivalrous attitude of vicarship--of man's illusion of his relationship

with God. For Kennaston, reality consists of the "evanescent emotions

and sensations of that single moment, that infinitesimal fraction of a

second which is passing now, and it is in the insignificance of this

moment precisely that pious people must believe" (XVI, 143). Religion

strives to teach that this moment is unimportant and that man must live

for something beyond actuality. Art, on the other hand, strives to make

"the sensations of a moment soul-satisfying." Hence art has been consid-

ered irreligious because it performs what religion only promises (XVI,

143-144). Man's life is a continual looking forward to something that

will be better tomorrow; his desire is to have life assume the shape of

a romance like those in story-books. Human life is conceived to be "a

distorted mirror held up to literature" (XVI, 148). The hope that

guides Kennaston is that "living might become symmetrical, well-plotted,

coherent, and as rational as living is in books" (XVI, 149). Life, to

Kennaston, has no symmetry and the universe seems "a vast disheveled

horror" (XVI, 149). Life strives toward symmetry, balance, order and

proportion, but nowhere does it attain these goals. Only man can make

symmetry. Kennaston sees an Artist-God--his fellow craftsman--with a

commendable sense of form and the planet earth as that corner of the

studio wherein God is working at present, and all life as the romance that

God is editing. Life and God are one in this striving; the poet's drive

toward symmetry is analogous to the drive inherent in the Universe.

Felix, like God the Artist, falls short of his literary goal, but

he believes in the possibility of ultimate success in his drive toward

perfect order. However, this absolute acceptance of cosmic and literary

optimism as the highest dynamic illusion is modified at the conclusion of

the chapter, "Evolution of a Vestryman" (XVI, 145ff). This modification

of an exuberantly expressed creed occurs in a manner very closely akin to

the closing chapters of Beyond Life. A skeptical novelist-friend of the

hero attacks the position and suggests a less optimistic position. As

Cabell himself appears to challenge Charteris' theory at the conclusion

of Charteris' long monologue, so Richard Harrowhy takes issue with Kennas-

ton's doctrines. Harrowby sums up Kennastons position in a sardonic tone:

To the discerning, it is easy enough to detect, in all
this fantastic theorizing, the man's obsessive love of
ordered beauty and his abhorrence of slovenliness and shape-
lessness--very easy to see just what makes the writings of
Felix Kennaston most admirable,--here alluring him to believe
that such ideals must also be cherished by Omnipotence. This
poet loved his formal art to the extent of coming to assume
it was the purpose, and the origin of terrestrial life. Life
seemed to him, in short, a God's chosen form of artistic self-
expression; and as a confrere, Kennaston found the result
praiseworthy. Even inanimate nature, he sometimes thought,
might be a divine experiment in vers libre. . (XVI, 58)

Harrowby as the narrator of The Cream of the Jest finds Kennaston's theory

too pat--"the shallowest sort of mysticism." He says in rebuttal as a

character within the novel he narrates, "The fatal fault, sir, of your

theorizing is that it is too complete. It aims to throw light upon the

universe, and therefore is self-evidently moonshine. The Wardens of

Earth do not desire that we should understand the universe, Mr. Kennaston;

it is part of Their appointed task to insure that we never do; and because

of Their efficiency every notion that any man, dead, living, or unborn

might form as to the universe will necessarily prove wrong. So, if for

no other reason I must decline to think of you and me as characters in a

romance" (XVI, 161-162). Harrowby reflects the skeptical gallant atti-

tude. He is willing to stop with the necessary doubt, accepting what he

cannot know; hut Kennaston desires the fabricated illusion of his own be-

lief in the ascendency of Art.

This motif occurs in a more symbolic form at the conclusion of

The Cream of the Jest. Harrowby explains the nature of Kennaston's dream

symbol, the Sigil of Scoteia, but Kennaston ignores the explanation, say-

ing that it makes not a whit that the romantic emblem is merely a cold

cream jar cap. The dreams, the fictions, are nonetheless real. The fact

that the belief is an assumption without basis in actuality is not so im-

portant as the subjective feelings and the creations aroused by it.

Thought and feeling are communicated by the artist's shaping of his materi-

als, not by those materials themselves, and "all art which strives to make

the moment's sensations soul-satisfying performmwhat religion only

promises" (XVI, 144).

Cabell's theory of literature receives its final and most conclu-

sive examination in the poet-hero, Felix Kennaston. He is the best de-

piction of the poet who understands his relationship with the universe

and the relationship between the work he creates and the creative force

at the center of the universe. Davis has summarized the aesthetic his-

toricism of The Cream of the Jest and Kennnston's view, most succinctly:

"Thackeray in 'De Finibus' tells how the characters of his creation be-

come real people to him, moved into his study, disrupted his household,

ignored his convenience, and behaved generally with wills of their own.

If one combines this view of the author's relation to his puppets with

Coleridge's primary and secondary imagination and if one adds the

Butlerian, Shavian, and Bergsonian versions of 'creative evolution, he

has the substance of Kennaston's thinking about art and reality."2 Ken-

naston is Cabell's last poet-hero in The Biography; as such he reflects

the basic tension between the image-makers and the universe. In opposi-

tion to the actualities of the universe and his rationalisation of belief

in fiction or illusion he takes a position opposed to Manuel's but some-

what akin to Jurgen's and exactly parallel to Madoc's vagabondage. He

does not reject image-making or illusion fiction, but he is not without

knowledge of their intangible aspect. Like Jurgen he understands the

bases of belief, and he values the good results. Like Madoc he strives

toward a perfected self-expression which eludes him. The seeking is more

productive than completion. Kennaston chooses an unattained, ordered,

fictive vision of the universe over disordered actuality.

Cabell's variant depictions of the poet-hero emphasize the con-

flicts and the solutions to conflicts of both internal and external na-

ture which confront the poet. Devotion to the poetic attitude is replaced

in Manuel's case by the chivalric attitude; for Jurgen the gallant atti-

tude supersedes the poetic though it does not obliterate knowledge of the

creative past. For Madoc, commercial and popular success as well as

domestication of the dream woman destroy the imaginative drive; however,

the normal course of human existence restores the poet to his endless

2Davis, p. 126.

search. Townsend progresses from absolute supply and demand creativity

toward self-diverting shaping of words. Gerald Musgrave's poetic ambi-

tion succumbs to contentment and finally he even substitutes the study

of sex for sexual involvement; but it must be remembered that his spiri-

tual journey was a quest for magic words not for beautiful carefully

ordered words. Essentially his direction was away from poetry at the

beginning. And finally there is Kennaston, the dreamer-poet, who im-

merses himself in belief and in the historical, mythical, and legendary

materials that are the poet's tools. Optimistically he harmonizes his

ideas of literature with his thoughts about the universe and finds in

both a shared harmony, a common drive toward symmetry, beauty, order, and

truth. The irony of Kennaston's achievement lies in the fact that his

grasp of this analogous relationship between universe and the creative

imagination brings his productive years to a halt. Like all the rest,

with perhaps the exception of Madoc, having solved the puzzle, having

resolved the tension within himself, he withdraws from his art.

Supernatural Characters

The supernatural characters in The Biography are of two kinds:

those taken from true mythologies and those invented by Cabell. The true

mythological characters usually are one part original to three parts

Cabellian invention. Two of these figures make frequent significant

appearances throughout the work, namely Koshchei and Horvendile. Two

others make less frequent appearances but nonetheless important contri-

butions: Miramon Lluagor and Donander. Of these four gods or demigods

only Koshchei is a true mythical figure. He is Koshchei the Deathless

of the firebird legend in Russian folklore. These mythic figures are

part of what might be called the Cabellian pantheon of creation myths.

Their relationships to each other are clearly drawn; their influence

among the other characters and in the major actions of The Biography are

as consistently developed a literary apparatus as are Homer's gods and

Alexander Pope's sylphs. Cabell spends as much effort in making them be-

lievable personages as he does in creating the knights and gentlemen of

Poictesme and Fairhaven.

Miramon Lluagor, one of the Fellowship of the Silver Stallion,

is a creator of dreams; he is the lord of magicians, of seven sleeps and

nine madnesses; he lives on a mountain, Vraidex, in his castle, Doubtful

Palace, where he thinks dreams, illusions, and nightmares which he rolls

down the mountain to the people. His freedom in creative thinking is

hampered by his wife's attitude toward such activity. As a continuing

theme, Cabell's female characters, particularly the wives, are Realists

who restrain and paradoxically inspire the creative urge in men. Mira-

mon's desire to free himself of his wife, Gisele, is the trigger to the

main action of Figures of Earth, beginning with Manuel's journey up

Vraidex, ostensibly to rescue Gisele from Miramon, but really through

Miramon's trickery to take the querulous Gisele away from the magician.

The third book of The Silver Stallion is devoted to Miramon's es-

capades as a member of Manuel's dissolved fellowship. Miramon is the

second memberto deny Manuel. Returning to Vraidex and his nagging wife,

he resumes his "art for art's sake," composing the black and white and

technicolor dreams of mankind in order to help them escape themselves.

Miramon's dreams, however, are tinged with skepticism and do in truth

"mirror man." It is precisely this quality in them that Gisele is op-

posed to, thinking that dreams should only show the good side of man-

kind. So Miramon, in a fit of temper, wishes her into the middle of last

week. Without Gisele, Miramon is miserable and void of creative urges;

domestic tranquility is not conducive to imaginative productivity in the

Cabellian theory of letters. Miramon's is the artist's characteristic

compromise and acceptance to pursue his art in the Economist's way--mak-

ing the greatest use of the raw materials of self-expression.

Donander is the hero of Book IX, "Above Paradise," of The Silver

Stallion. He "was the only one of the lords of the Silver Stallion who

accepted with joy and unbounded faith the legend of Manuel, and who in

all his living bore testimony to it" (III, 251). Upon his death Donan-

der's spirit is taken by mistake to pagan Valhalla where he marries

Vanadis and fits out a chapel, a place where he can pray for "the second

coming of Manuel and for the welfare of Donander's soul upon the holy

Morrow of Judgement" (III, 265). For the Aenseis in Ydalir, Donander

becomes the Man-God, Donander Veratyr, an Ans of mature standing, one

of the Aenseis.

After a while in pagan eternity, Donander sees one of his brothers-

in-law, Koshchei, playing a "droll-looking sport." (III, 266). Vanadis

teaches Donander how to play; he begins to create and populate worlds by

his handicraft. Thus Donander begins his demiurgy with an Egyptian cre-

ation myth, Kam and Khypera. His skill increases as he indulges in

demiurgy, until he merely has to desire a world to have it come into

existence. In this manner he creates a universe of planetary systems

(III, 268) while he awaits Manuel and Judgment Day.

Sidvrar Vafudir, the Weaver and Constrainer, Father of Vanadis

(the Father and Master of all), comes to stop Donander's excessive world

and universe making. To do this he shows Donander that all the worlds he

has created worship him, Donander Veratyr, as a god, and fight over the-

ological differences about their belief in him. Sidvrar also shows

Donander that the Earth is gone, that Jehovah has long since stopped

playing with it and he admonishes Donander to stop his world making be-

cause all of the noise these believers send out are ugly and unbecoming

for an Ans of Donander's rank. Donander, in supposed contempt for these

creations and the insects which inhabit them, wills them gone. Sidvrar

closes the oval window on the universe for good and Donander becomes "a

lonely and uncomprehended immortal among his many peers" (III, 276).

But, as soon as the King and Father of the Aenseis leaves, Donander re-

turns to his chapel to worship Manuel and to await his coming and Judgment

Day. To his mind all that Sidvrar has shown him is "illusion planned with

some evil spirit's aid to tempt Donander away from respectability and the

true faith" (III, 277).

Significantly, just as novels are created by the Cabellian novel-

ist characters, so Donander creates universes as play, as a self-divert-

ing, self-expression. The worlds like the fictions are "imaginative self-

expression which have 'no purpose, no particular end for the creation ex-

cept play, self-expression, or self-diversion" (III, 277). The Demiurge,

here represented by Donander Veratyr, creates dynamic illusions which are

worlds and universes and planetary systems but, he has a human heart

which makes him a devout believer in one of these dynamic illusions, the

legend of a redeemer, of hope and salvation for mankind as well as the

Gods or Demiurges. Like Felix, Donander,though he is aware of the illu-

sionary nature of his creations, chooses to believe even as he stops cre-


Koshchei, Donander's brother-in-law, is the creator of "things as

they are." He is the ultimate Realist in The Biography and he appears

almost as frequently as Horvendile, the diabolical author of the Romantic

events. Koshchei, a familiar figure in Russian folklore, appears most

importantly in Jurgen and The Silver Stallion. The Heaven which Jurgen

ascends to is the Heaven created by Koshchei after Jurgen's grandmother

Steinvor's concept of what Heaven ought to be like. The ideas for heaven

were taken from Revelation. The Hell Jurgen visits was also created by

Koshchei, in this case, after man's guilt-ridden dreams of his own punish-

ments. From these two examples it is apparent that Koshchei is an un-

imaginative creator, a realist bounded in his making by what is.

In the last episode of Jurgen, the hero faces Koshchei as "the

manager of the cave"--a cave similar to Plato's. Here Koshchei brings

back all of Jurgen's dreams to tempt him again, but Jurgen rejects these

phantoms: Guinevere, Anaitis, Helen and Death. So, reluctantly, Kosh-

chei returns Jurgen's wife, Dame Lisa, as "the voice of Judgement."

Koshchei's power as the creator of the world is threatened in The

Silver Stallion. When the rogue Miramon knocks the bees of Toupan off

their blackcross, the cosmos that Koshchei dominates is disturbed and the

Old Ones who superseded him are awakened. Toupan, Guaracy, and Jacy

begin to stir, threatening the harmony of the universe. Koshchei's

agents, the Star Warriors and the Wardens of Worlds, beg him to do some-

thing, but he refuses. As each bee is knocked off Koshchei's power

weakens and suns melt; but the Realist, KoshcheL has absolute faith that

the world he has made will work as he has intended it to work. Miramon's

desire for his wife causes him to wish both her and the bees to be re-

stored. When the bees return, the Old Ones settle into their places and

Koshchei's rule is complete once again. The essence of the man and woman

relationships, sexual desire and domestic regularity,overcome any threat

to the universe that he has patterned after his ideas of flesh.

Koshchei's most frequent activities as a supernatural version of

the realistic literary artist are passive; as a craftsman his success

seems to lie in having made an absolutely predictable world peopled by

absolutely predictable beings--a sexually dominated real world which be-

haves mechanistically. He reduces the romantic dream creators to flesh

by the reminder that they have since creation been flesh and no more. He

uses man's self-punishing guilt, which is inherent in the flesh, as his

main source of inspiration for man's end--Hell. Koshchei's omnipresence

is assumed by the world as it is, a world without the auctorial virtues

of fiction. Like Death, Pan, the Brown Man, and Janicot, frequent sym-

bolic characters in The Biography, Koshchei is dull but powerful, a con-

stand reminder of decay and of the strengths and weaknesses of the flesh.

Like the Realist female characters, Sereda, Maya, Gisele, and Niafer, he

sustains the world by expecting no more of it than was in the original

creation, itself no more or less than colorless, imperfect, intolerant


Except in Jurgcn, where he is identified with Koshchei and Kosh-

chei's realism, Horvendile, the diabolical romantic demiurge of The Bi-

ography, is Koshchei's opposite and, by far, the most complex creator-

artist, fictional mythic character that Cabell created.

Horvendile's first appearance in the Biography is as Orven Deal,

an off-stage character in The Eagle's Shadow who sends a villain, Cock-

eyed-Flinks, to wound the hero, Billy Woods, and change the course of the

plot. Kennaston, who later shares Horvendile's identity, makes his first

appearance in this novel.

Horvendile makes a brief appearance in Figures of Earth, as Grand-

father Death's companion and as the prophet of Manuel's coming experiences.

After Death takes Niafer away, Manuel has a discussion with Horvendile

who tells him that he will lose everything and will at the last detest all

human wisdom. To Horvendile the whole of the place, the action, the char-

acters seem things that he has imagined and all the world appears to him

to be only his notion. As the internal author of The Biography Horvendile

expands his ideas of the fiction into a philosophical discussion. Man's

seeking for success is "but the stirring of an ape reft of his tale, and

grown rusty at climbing, who yet feels himself to be a symbol and the

frail representative of Omnipotence in a place that is not home." (II, 39).

Man employs himself stirring blunderinglyy, from mystery to mystery, with

pathetic makeshifts not understanding anything, greedy in desires and

honey-combed with poltroonery, and yet ready to give all, and to die

fighting for the sake of that undemonstrable idea, about his being

Heaven's vicar and heir" (II, 39). In this manner Horvendile sums up

the basic romantic-naturalism discussed in Part One of this study.

Essentially he restates the central collusion of man's dynamic illu-

sions and his natural condition--the dreaming ape. On this combined

note of literary theory and world view, Horvendile instructs Manuel as

to the means of attaining his desires. His other appearances in this

novel are silent, the most notable occurring as Manuel's saga begins

again by the Haranton, near the worm-eaten cross and the two stones:

those Christian-Phallic emblems of his redemptive nature. Horvendile's

presence at this scene reminds us that Manuel holds Poictesme in liege

to Horvendile--the auctorial overlord of The Biography.

In The Silver Stallion Horvendile's role is that of liege lord and

fictive author of the events. He sends the Fellows of the Stallion to-

ward adventures which he has foreordained. In Book One he sends the

members of the dissolved Fellowship in different directions to storm the

fortresses of other Redeemers and to replace those fortresses of myth

with Dom Manuel's legend. This dispatching of the knights occurs in a

chapter suitably entitled "The Economics of Horvendile." Being the chief

myth maker or illusion shaper of The Biography, Horvendile as the Demiurge

has his role sharpened by the fact that it is he who controls the shaping

of the new dynamic illusion, the life of Dom Manuel, which is the sub-

stance of The Biography. He is the supernatural Economist author, making

the best use of the raw materials ordered by him in a work of art.

Characteristically, Horvendile's next appearance in The Silver

Stallion comes at the conclusion. He appears to dispel women's disagree-

ment over Manuel's true nature. His statement to them is a cogent repeti-

tion of Cabell's basic view of mankind and the necessity of illusions or

fictions: "So does it come about that the saga of Manuel and the sagas of

all the lords of the Silver Stallion have been reshaped by the foolishness

and the fond optimism of mankind; and these sagas now conform in every-

thing to that supreme romance which preserves from insanity. For it is

just as I said, years ago, to one of these so drolly whitewashed and en-

nobled rapscallions. All men that live, and that go perforce about this

world like blundering lost children whose rescuer is not yet in sight,

have a vital need to believe in this sustaining legend about the Redeemer,

and about the Redeemer's power to make those persons who serve him just

and perfect" (III, 293). Niafer, the preserver and developer of the

legend of Manuel, turns away from this skeptic with the same resolution

that Donander had when he turned away from Sidvrar. Horvendile vanishes

again, having spoken the broadest view of man's role in his own fictions

or illusions.

The metamorphosis of Horvendile into Felix Kennaston, the poet-

hero of The Cream of the Jest, is the climactic fictional point of The

Biography and of the theory of literature. Horvendile describes him-

self before he is transformed into Kennaston of modern Lichfield: "There

was once in a land very far away from this land--in my country--a writer

of romances. And once he constructed a romance which, after a hackneyed

custom of my country, he pretended to translate from an old manuscript

written by an ancient clerk--called Horvendile . I am the maker of

that romance, this room, this castle, all the broad rolling countryside

without, is but a portion of my dreams, and these places have no existence

except in my fancies" (XVI, 27). The remainder of Horvendile's life in

The Biography is as the self-analyzing dreamer-poet, Kennaston.

Horvendile is both god and man, creator and author, fate and im-

probability, critic and philosophical commentator. He is a skeptic and a

disrupting force who works within the fictional patterns. In brief ap-

pearances he sets some of the novels in motion and he resolves other ac-

tions in unexpected and illogical ways. He may be pure spirit or force,

a real Demiurge; but he is always described as red-headed and constantly

attended by the perfect woman, Ettarre. He also may be one of Felix Ken-

naston's dreams about his romantic activities in past ages. Frequently

he is called the Author, indicating he is the major Artist-as-God charac-

ter of The Biography. le is the gadfly to all the idealistic and befud-

dled heroes of The Biography. He is an ally to Grandfather Death and,

perhaps, the creator of Koshchei, the supreme Realist. He is the perfect

embodiment of romantic naturalism, the guiding wizard of the skeptical-

optimism, which is Cabell's hallmark. In his duality as Kennaston, he is

the personification of the poetic attitude.

Cabell's supernatural characters are not, literally speaking,

literary artists with the exception perhaps of Horvendile who associates

himself specifically with the literary artist's imagined and controlled

world. They are "makers" or poets in the Greek sense and as such they

reflect the same creative processes that are expressed by the literary

artists of Poictesme and Modern Virginia. These mythical characters cre-

ate at a cosmic level with worlds and the worldly poet-heroes mirror these

supernatural creations in their shaping of words into novels, poems, and

plays that are analogous to the created universe.

These supernatural creators of The Biography are embodiments of

what Cabell considers the archetypal patterns of poetry. In depicting

them, he can shape his theory of literature on a more allegorical and

hence more complexly philosophical plane. He can examine the God-the-

Artist or God-the-Poet analogue by creating Gods and demi-gods such as

Horvendile, Donander, Koshchei and Miramon Llugor who are transcendent

but also imminent forms of artists. They, too, create in acts of imagina-

tive self-expression. Koshchei is the realist of the cosmos; Donander

and Miramon are the romantic makers of worlds and dreams; and Hlorvendile

is the skeptical, diabolical, romantic shaper of lives and actions which

are the contents of The Biography. Cabell uses these mythical makers to

suggest that the universe and The Biography are far too complex to have

been generated out of one creative imagination.


Cabell's female characters generally reflect a central paradox of

his literary theory: the destructive and inspirational necessity of the

female in the poet's life. Woman for Cabell's poet-hero is an ideal to-

ward which he moves and a force which restrains his imaginative powers.

The sexual impulse and its object control the worlds of actuality and of

fantasy. Though the ideal woman may be the poet's major inspiration, she

is, if attained, the agent of destruction for that inspiration. In the

flesh or in the dream, Cabell's women are realists or anti-romantics.

If for a moment Guinevere, Anaites, or Melior seems the perfect woman,

proximity reveals that the essense of womanhood is realism. Helen alone

of all Cabell's female figures remains an emblem of untarnished beauty

and symmetry; Jurgen knows that to touch her would be to destroy this

dynamic illusion out of the classical past.

Two classes of women populate Fairhaven and Poictesme: the

dreamed witchwomen and wives. The fantasy women are as frequently

corrupters of poetic expression as they are its inspiration. Wives,

on the other hand, are poets' necessary associations, perhaps even more

necessary than the fantasy women. Consistently dreamfigures disperse

the imaginative world in witch-like conjurations of illusory sex and

domesticity. But wives challenge poetic illusions with common sense.

The successful poet-figure traverses both fantasy and actuality: Mira-

mon, the dream-maker, achieves a harmony between his own self-realization

as an artist and his wife, Gisele's, grumbling disapproval of his art.

Jurgen, Manuel, and Florian give up the dreamworld for domesticity. An

archetypal Penelope-figure and the duties of home await every poet-ad-

venturer after his imaginative sojourns with the Circes, Didos, and Nau-

sicas of his dreams.

Cabell's witchwomen are derived from myth, fiction, and history:

Ettarre and Guineveve are derived from the Arthurian materials. Freydis

is Germanic; Sereda, Russian; and Anaites, Greek. Melior and Melusine

are French fairy tale and folk characters and Alianora is based on

Eleanor of Acquitaine. Each, however, becomes a complex allegorical

figure in Cabell's fictive theory of literature. Of these the most im-

portant are Ettarre, Freydis, and Sereda.

Ettarre, Manuel's third daughter, is the constant companion of

Horvendile, the all-controlling fictional author of The Biography.

Horvendile says that she is Helen to him (VI, 214). She is the epitome

of the Cabell witchwoman who beguiles the poet toward creativity and

destruction. In her physical form she is illusive, "white-limbed and

like a living mist" (IV, 253) in the twilight. The Norns have condemned

her to live in the Waste Beyond the Moon for so long as her poisonous

music lasts (IV, 254). Her music inspires Madoc, the poet, to perfect

his singing. After succumbing to domestic life with the poet, she dies.

His inspiration gone, Madoc places his pen in her hand saying that he

will write no more songs. Charters, in Beyond Life, associates her with

both Circe and Melusine, witchwomen who dwell in "a secluded land which

is always less glaringly lighted than our work-a-day world shows at noon-

tide" (I, 54). For Horvendile she embodies all he "was ever able to

conceive of beauty and fearlessness and strange purity, and she is "that

ageless, lovable, and loving woman long worshipped and sought everywhere

in vain by all poets" (XVI, 10). In a typical Cabell internal footnote

Horvendile lists all of Ettarre's appearances before great poets of the

past: she was Helen to Homer, Calypso to Odysseus, Antigone to Sophocles,

Bombycan to Theocrites, Isolde to Mark and Tristan, Medea to Jason, Es-

clairmonde to Huon. Indeed, "all poets had had fitfull glimpses .. ."

(XVI, 11-12). She has also taken part in the lives of powerful men who

have lived with poetic intensity: Cromwell, Mohammed, Richelieu, Tam-

burlaine, and Julius Caesar (XVI, 183). Cabell obviously thinks of her

as the feminine essence--enigmatic, witch-like, beautiful, disarming,

crafty, fickle--which survives all ages. Though her fleshly forms may

be destroyed by domesticity her spirituality is timeless and her life

with any poet is only a fragment; "for her story is not lightly to be

ended . by the death of any woman's body which Ettarre is wearing;

nor is her music making ended either . no matter to what ears time

and conformity may have brought deafness" (IV, 288).

Significantly, Ettarre is the only figure in The Biography who

is not "debunked" by Horvendile as an unworthy, manmade illusion. She

is his guiding illusion and one of Cabell's major character types--the

witchwoman.. No other figure in his allegories is quite so absolute, so

unchanging in form and position. He conceived of her as the spirit of

all historical and literary seductresses. Like the archetypal artist,

Prometheus, whose spirit of rebellion passes from poet to poet, the

witchwoman is a constant in the lives of poets, in their works, and in


Mother Sereda is another form of absolute female presence. She,

like Koshchei, is a character in Russian folklore. She shares one qual-

ity with Ettarre: a variety of avatars. Ettarre appears as herself

throughout The Biography and references are made to her past involvements

in poetic creativity. Sereda, however, appears in many forms throughout

the work, sometimes changing from shape to shape in one volume as new

shapes are demanded by the situation. As Eve she is man's living on

earth; as the young Maya, she seduces poets away from their purposes

into sex and domesticity. Sereda rules the middle of the week, Wednes-

day, and all things blue (VI, 40). She is the embodiment of destruction,

discoloration, and contentment. She possesses "the secrets of remunera-

tive mediocrity in the learned professions, in truth telling, in uphol-

stering, in the removal of mountains into the sea, in the erection of

bridges over any impassable place, in the preparation of rose-colored

mirrors, in criticism, in oratory, in jurisprudence, and in the safe

interpretation of Holy Writ" (X, 168). Her sisters, the fates, "nibble

at temporal things, like furtive mice: she devastated, like a sandstorm,

so that there were many dust heaps where Mother Sereda had passed, but

nothing else" (VI, 35-36). As Maya she is one of those who guard the

way to Antan (VIII, 155) and makes the poets wear rose-colored glasses.

She is "a placid, stupid rather dull woman" who thinks that contentment

is all. The desire of poets and gods to create splendor and to perform

tremendous feats is foreign to her. Her great lover, the Adversary, or

Satan describes their relationship: "We two who began in the Garden to

contrive for the happiness of men, and to be speaking always for the real

good of men,--yes, certainly, our work is hard and endless. For men stay

romantically minded creatures who aspire beyond my kingdom. Yet we do

not despair" (X, 283).

Sereda, Maya and Aesred are avatars of the same idea: the female

rulers of "things as they are." They are the illusions of contentment

and compromise which can seal off the poet's creativity. Like Circe,

Maya reduces men to animals by nurturing their animalistic traits:

sexual fulfillment and physical security. Sereda and Aesred are more

ominous and less attractive versions of the same character. Both bleach

life and color out of all things and turn men into "useful domestic ani-

mals" (X, 155). From Eve forward this destructive, bleaching quality

of the female has had as strong an influence as has the witchwoman's

sorcery. Ettarre and Maya are not the same, but neither are they com-

pletely divergent; both are dynamic illusions or fantasy figures which

fade in and out of the Cabellian her6's dream life.

Freydis, another variation of the witchwoman, has been the Queen

of Audela and the guardian of its fire, but she becomes the Queen of

Antan. Her exile from one kingdom to another is a shift of her power

over truth beyond life's shadows to control over the yesteryear of myths

and poetry. In Antan she possesses "a mirror which must, they say, be

faced by those persons who venture into the goal of all the gods of

men--the Mirror of Hidden Children" (X, 163). This mirror reflects

images which are "unclouded by either good or evil" (X, 11). Good and

evil being man's first major dynamic illusions, this mirror must show

"the word as it was in the beginning." Freydis is desirable, inspiring

and destructive like the other witchwomen; but as a gray witch she is

neither the ideal female nor is she its negation. As a major figure of

the theory of literature she is the most vascillating and enigmatic be-

cause of her relationship with the two allegorical places, Audela and

Antan. Her realm is at once physical--she is seduced by men of action,

Manuel and Florian--and spiritual--she has possessed the fires of great

poetic inspiration and she comes to possess the all enveloping misty past

which is the end of all poetry.

Another set of dream women are of literary and historical origins,

for example: Guinevere, Helen, Melusine, Melior, Alianora, and Ysabeau.

Of these, the most important to the literary theory is Helen, who repre-

sents classical perfection in womanhood. Melusine and Melior are figures

of French literature and folklore, characters from the courtly love tra-

dition of the troubadors. Guinevere is emblematic of the collapse of

chivalry. Alianora and Ysabeau are fictionalized historical personages,

Eleanor of Acquitaine and Edward II's wife, women who have sacrificed

their female qualities for political power. Jurgen's dream of Helen and

Helen's image as the epitome of beauty and desirability remains intact;

he refuses to possess her physically because he cherishes the power of

her illusion. He refuses to make Faust's and Paris's mistake. Having

possessed Guinevere, Anaitis and Chloris, he knows the consequences of

the physical to be disillusionment. Unlike Faust he refuses Koshchei's

offer of any perfect woman, thereby accepting life "as it is" while re-

taining his ability to move beyond life in the dynamic illusion of per-

fect beauty and symmetry, Helen.

The wives of the heroes are not dream women or witches; they are

helpful antagonists to the poet's inner life. As essential catalysts

for the poet's physical existence they serve a dual purpose in Cabell's

literary theory. Niafer protects Manuel's image while he lives and de-

velops a religion based on that life after his death. Gisele chastizes

Miramon for the sexual aspects of his dream-making; he uses the last two

of three wishes to send her away and to recall her when he discovers that

her absence unsettles the necessary harmony of his household. Lisa

grumbles constantly, but Jurgen chooses life with her over all the

romantic dream women. Saraide, Kevin of Nointel's wife, cuckolds her

husband, and ridicules his attempt to acquire all knowledge, but remains

with him to provide the truth that tempers his learning. Each wife

represents the dynamic illusion of common-sense challenging the dy-

namic illusions, chivalry, art, optimism, and knowledge.

Niafer shapes the religion of Manuel, but she does not waste real

jewels on Manuel's tomb. Gisele nags about Miramon's dreams, proposing

less skepticism. Saraide questions all knowledge with a definition of

life as a ". . pageant that passes quickly, going hastily from one dark-

ness to another with only ignes fatui to guide; and there is no sense in

it. . But life is a fine ardent spectacle; and I have loved the actors

in it; and I have loved their youth and their high-heartedness, and their

ungrounded faiths, and their queer dreams, my Kevin, about their own im-

portance and about the greatness of the destiny that awaited them--while

you were peddling after, of all things, the truth" (III, 207).

Her statement is that of a romantic naturalist: the world view

does not shatter her belief in the truth and enjoyment of the dynamic il-

lusions necessary to life. Her "economics" is the same as the Economist

poet's theory of literature: to make the best use of the raw materials to

move beyond life. Each of the wives retains her belief in the basic

dynamic illusions, ignoring the dream-wrought skepticism of her poet hus-

band. Each of them becomes in some way the sanctuary for the poet out-

side the fantasy world. Not fully understanding the nature of the hero's

life, each nurtures it with healthy antagonism and protectiveness. Like

Priscilla Bradley Cabell, the model for all of them, they encourage the

poet indirectly and keep his skepticism in check with regular church

attendance, domestic harmony, and children. It is this image of the

poet's wife that correlates with his idea that poets are childlike per-

sons who play at elaborate make-believe for their own diversion and need

constant attendants.3

The women--wives or witches--of Cabell's novels are essential to

his fictive vision: the paradoxical interdependence of existence and

dream, the world "as it is" and the world "as it ought to be." "Man

alone plays the ape to his dreams"; his greatest dreams are of women and

his fantasy playing is supervised by women.

Woman, in her various aspects as conceived by Cabell, occupies a

position of importance in all of the attitudes which guide men. In

chivalry she is the intermediary worshipped figure who symbolizes God's

spiritual presence on earth. In gallantry, she is the object of man's

living within the bounds of his physical limitations; she is not wor-

shipped but coveted by the gallant hero. And to the poet she can be

destructive, inspiring, and compromising; the poet may worship her, covet

her body, or idolize her as the embodiment of perfection in art. Either

possessing her or worshipping her may destroy his creative drive toward

immortality in literature. Idolization of her as the unattainable symbol

of symmetry, order, and beauty results in the best poetry. As a dream

she inspires what she cannot engender as a physical actuality.

As he depicts the various aspects of the poet's inner being by

creating a widely differing group of poet-heroes, so Cabell includes many

women characters who have great ideational significance in his theory of

3James Branch Cabell, As I Remember It (New York, 1955), p. 42.

literature. Woman-consciousness is an aspect of all the attitudes

treated in The Biography and by far the most complex presentations of

her occur in relation to poets.

The Allegorical Journey and Thematic Pattern

Beginning with The Cream of the Jest (1917) and culminating in

five major works of the next decade--Jurgen, Figures of Earth, The High

Place, The Silver Stallion, and Something About Eve--Cabell uses one

fictional pattern with variations. The literary theory, which increases

notably in these books, is developed as allegorical journeying of the

hero's spirit or dream form. Cabell refers to this quest journey as "the

true formula": "It is the formula of the Odyssey, the formula of picar-

esque romance, and of all fairy stories properly equipped with quests and

the undomitable third prince. It is, of course, precisely the one formula

which cannot ever lose its charm so long as men retain that frame of mind

which seems coeval with recorded history, of being bored by the routine

of their daily living" (XVII, 54). For his purposes, this form offers a

very suitable and logical construction in which he can arrange a variety

of thoughts and symbolic actions. He courts the rather obvious compari-

son between his work and The Odyssey, Pilgrim's Progress, Gawain and the

Green Knight, the Divina Commedia, Faust, and Tom Jones because he wishes

to echo the color, tone, incident, and literary significance of these

classical journeys. No doubt he shares Joyce's and Eliot's mythopoetic

conception of literature, a critical vision which came into being during

Cabell's most productive period, the 1920's. Cabell has in the five major

novels of this decade examined the dynamic illusion, the Demiurge, and

the auctorial virtues from different points of view.

The Cream of the Jest is a series of dreams interspersed with

discussions of dreams and literature. In effect the book begins in

Kennaston's dream of Horvendile, and then moves back and forth from

fantasy to actuality, comparing the two worlds and eventually emphasiz-

ing the more productive fictions of dreams. The pattern of action in

the book stresses the interdependence of the imaginative world and the

physical world.

Kennaston's dreaming is stimulated by a dynamic illusion, his be-

lief in the Sigil of Scoteia. The novel's zigzag movement is toward a

unification of the two halves of the Sigil and Harrowby's explanation

of that emblem. The novel's climax is in a philosophical decision:

Kennaston's wife dies at the moment he discovers that she has the other

half, he ends his writing career, and he defines the importance of be-

lief which is based on illusion. Separate dreams of encounters with

fictional and historical personages are the episodes which lead Felix to

self-realization and to acceptance of his physical existence. As is so

frequently the case, the hero's journeying brings him back home. Ken-

naston's acceptance is at once a thematic resolution of his life as a

husband, an artist, and a creature of the universal order. Harrowby's

explanation of the Sigil acts in the plot as a denouement faintly sug-

gestive of a detective unraveling the facts in a murder mystery--all of

the illusions are explained away. The Sigil has lost its use as the

poet's looking glass or Proustian madeleine, the entrance and impetus

into a controllable fictional world.

As a prelude to the period of the mature comedies, The Cream of

the Jest's structure is important because it hints at the more linear

progressions to come. Cabell seems to have turned away from the inter-

mingling of dream and reality to the journey in which the hero moves

through increasingly more complex allegorical episodes. The idea of a

plotted progression toward acceptance suited his purposes so well that

he used it in four succeeding novels and in most of the episodes of The

jLvegr^ Stanllon,

Critics consider Jurgen the prototype of Cabell's mature comedies.4

In it the allegorical quest or dream journey is worked with a control that

Cabell improves as he approaches the completion of The Biography. Jurgen's

Walpurgisnacht journey is composed of episodes in which he rejects chival-

ry, hedonism, poetry, and religion to accept things as they are. To

Cabell this attitude is a mature acceptance identified with middle age,

a time for setting aside sexual, religious and poetic involvements. Jur-

gen's journeying in the middle of his life is downward through vicarship

and hedonism to Hell and upward to a Heaven created by Koshchei in the

image of Jurgen's grandmother's belief, and finally, downward again to

the middle regions, the grumbling, taxpaying world of his wife, Lisa,

his pawnshop, and old age. Cabell has replaced the zigzag pattern of The

Cream of the Jest with the descending-ascending allegorical journey. The

Greco-Medieval combination of The Odyssey and the Divina Commedia provides

a loose episodic order for Cabell's literary, philosophical, and ethical


4See works by Davis, Wells and Rothman.

The episodes of Jurgen represent various rejections which are a

turning away from dynamic illusions, or an exchange of one set of dynamic

illusions for another. Jurgen's dreams are rejected but not forgotten,

and they are likely to recur. Systematically, episode by episode, he re-

jects chivalry in the form of Guinevere; hedonistic sex in Anaitis, a

nature myth; realism, in the Brown Man, the Lord of the Two Truths; ideal

classic poetic inspiration in Helen; guilt in Hell, man's dynamic illu-

sion of a punishment suitable for his sins; and, finally, optimism in

Heaven, a romantic, youthful acceptance of the beliefs of old age. Jur-

gen's rejections are Cabell's negations of the dynamic illusions which he

says govern civilization. Notably, he has Jurgen reject these dreams

twice; the second rejection occurs in the last episode of the novel when

Jurgen returns, with the aid of Koshchei to his wife, "the voice of Judg-

ment" and the ultimate human compromise.

In Jurgen Cabell has mirrored the complexity of his conceptions

which are expressed more abstractly in Beyond Life. Jurgen is an aging

ex-poet who has not completely lost his poetic attitude; he has been

chivalrous, but vicarship to God, too, has become a memory. He has been

a hedonist, but physical limitations have destroyed all save the memory

of physical accomplishments; he has been a believer in the religious es-

sentials, guilt and optimism, but these notions evaporated with youth.

Now, he accepts, and he works within the world as it is; however, he

aids in the development of all the illusions which he has abandoned.

Having been deeply involved in these illusions, he now stands outside

them, believing in them, remembering, knowing the good generated by these

forces with, but somehow content'with his less imaginative lot.

Jurgen's dream experiences are comparable to the dynamic illusion

created by the Demiurge; they exist in a complicated progressive inter-

relationship--an interdependence resulting from their common source.

The pattern of action in Jurgen is repetitious and cyclical because of

this interdependence of illusions. For Cabell, history, mythology, re-

ligion, and poetry must be viewed as manifestations of the unknowable

third truth which the human mind, in this case represented by the skep-

tical and worldly-wise Jurgen, only glimpses through the dynamic illu-

sions. All of Jurgen's dreamed adventures in the shadowy cave are speci-

fic incidents reflecting the Spirit of Romance's creations in history,

myth, religion, and poetry. His rejection of each of them as a way of

living is Cabell's most extensive examination of the more rationalistic

gallant attitude overriding poetry and chivalry. Jurgen accepts illu-

sions for what they are and recognizes his part in creating them, but he

remains aloof from them by pursuing a life devoted to the diversions

which he enjoys. He insists upon keeping the two parts of his life--the

dreams and the actualities--absolutely separate. He does not wish to at-

tain the dreams, only to dream dreams and he is satisfied with his life

as Lisa's husband and a pawnbroker.

Jurgen and Figures of Earth have a contrapuntal relationship that

is essentially a variant resolution of two related but different patterns.

Cabell writes in the author's note to the Storisende edition of Figures

of Earth that "where Manuel faces the world, Jurgen considers the uni-

verse. . Dom Manuel is the Achilles of Poictesme as Jurgen is its

Ulysses" (II, xxiv). He concentrates on Manuel's actions and both Jur-

gen's thoughts and actions (II, xxiv).

Figures of Earth is another development of the quest-journey ex-

ploits of a hero, in this case, the hero in spirit of The Biography.

Manuel's journeying is both a quest for self-fulfillment, as a man who

follows after his own desires and thinking, and a denial of the dream-

world of the poet, beyond life. In this order Manuel turns away from his

youthful love, Suskind; the politically powerful Alianora; and the guard-

ian of poetic inspiration, Freydis. Manuel, like Jurgen, rejects life as

a maker, or poietes, to become a man of action, but his actions are con-

ceived as a part of his vicarship to God.

Each book of Figures of Earth is given a title taken from account-

ing terminology: "The Book of Credit"--Manuel's quest mission up Vraidex

to Doubtful Palace; "The Book of Spending"--his sojourn with Alianora;

"The Book of Cost Accounting"--his sojourn with Freydis and the image

makers; "The Book of Surcharge"--his life as a ruler and redeemer of

Poictesme; and "The Book of Settlement"--his departure. The analogy im-

posed here is a loose one between an account book and Manuel's actions.

The climax of Manuel's picaresque adventures is his reign over

Poictesme, which he redeems from the Northmen and which he holds in liege

to Horvendile, the fictive Author of The Biography. His characteristics

as a Redeemer are the philosophical climax of the novel. Having peppered

his book with Biblical associations, Cabell explicates them internally in

the final episode. Miramon Lluagor, one of the Fellows of The Silver

Stallion, draws a complicated parallel between Manuel's actions and those

of Christ and other redeemers of mankind. The analogy between Christ's

life and Manuel's is a broad one and there is really no need to expect a

tight parallel between the pattern of Figures of Earth and any particular

synoptic Gospel. Miramon describes the details of that life which make

it suitable to be that of a Redeemer. Manuel was "'born in a cave at

about the time of the winter solstice, of a virgin mother and of a father

who was not human'"; he "'wandered duly from place to place, bringing

wisdom and holiness to men'"; and he "'duly performed miracles, such as

reviving dead persons and so on--'"; and he "'duly sojourned with evil

in a desert place,'" and was "'tempted to dispair and blaspheme and to

commit other iniquities '" (II, 226). Miramon then notes that these have

been characteristic of all reputable Redeemers: Mithras, Huitzilopochtli,

Tamouz, Heracles, Gautama, Dionysos, and Krishna (II, 227). He does not

specifically mention Christ. Manuel accepts his role as a Redeemer and

descends into a cave for three days to be properly prepared. Here his

journeying on earth ends for he remains in Poictesme to defend it from

Philistia's threats until he dies.

Cabell explores the major dynamic illusions systematically in

Figures of Earth, as he did Jurgen, but the rejections are made by a

man of action whose motto is Multi Vult Decipi. Manuel rejects the

dreamworld of Vraidex, the political ambitions of Alianora, and the

image making of Audela, and accepts his life in Poictesme with Niafer.

He also accepts the notion of man's vicarship to God, but this accept-

ance does not involve an optimistic illusion of life beyond death. Man-

uel is not an optimist and the climax of Figures of Earth--his departure

with Grandfather Death--is a willing acceptance of the inevitable un-

known end of all men.

Jurgen participates in the events of each episode; Manuel works at

avoiding involvement while he pursues the devices and desires of his own

heart. Jurgen's end is middle age; Manuel's end is disillusionment and

death, but his life is carried on in a new redemption myth. In Manuel

Cabell depicts a skeptical lonely anti-poet who finds discontent as a

redeemer and ruler. The end of his rise from swineherd to liege lord is

boredom and a desire for the meeting with death.

Jurgen can be God but he chooses middle age; Manuel is the ruler

of Poictesme, but he turns to death and hence to immortality as a new re-

ligion. What Manuel appeared to be in his life becomes an ideal way of

life--a religious cult. Manuel's acceptance of his lot and his acknowl-

edgement of the necessity of belief in vicarship to God becomes the pat-

tern which Cabell examines throughout The Biography.

The shaping of Manuel's life into a major dynamic illusion--a

religious cult--is the subject of The Silver Stallion. Cabell calls The

Silver Stallion a parody of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. Equally

apparent is its indebtedness to the Arthurian legends, but then perhaps

there is an inherent similarity between the apostles of Christ develop-

ing Christianity into a coherent religion and the knights of the round-

table making the ideals of chivalry the moral code of an age. The form

of The Silver Stallion is certainly the same episodic quest journey form

of Acts and the Arthurian legend. In The Silver Stallion, the followers

of Manuel engage in quests, missions, and evangelism in the name of his

legend and in opposition to many other religions and myths.

The Silver Stallion is clearly a parody of Acts and the Arthurian

legends; it is also a reworking and ordering of the pattern of man's myth

making ability into a commentary on the human spirit.

In this novel religion or the mythic content of religion is the

dynamic illusion that Cabell takes as his subject. Since he assumes that

religions are created by man and as a direct result of the Spirit of

Romance, there is little doubt that the poetic attitude is artwork in the

shaping of any religion. The making of a religion is a poetic act--the

use of raw materials of life to attain immortality. Cabell regards the

hero of The Silver Stallion as the idea of Manuel. "The theme of this

book, then, is how that legend ('of the all-powerful Redeemer who will

come again, tomorrow') came to attach itself to Dom Manuel; how, in

particular, that legend afterward affected, or did not affect, those

persons who had known Dom Manuel almost intimately; and how in the end

nobody believed in it any longer except Donander Veratyr. But Donander

Veratyr was God'! (III, xvi).

The Silver Stallion contains several quest journey episodes in

which followers of Manuel live or fail to live according to their legen-

dary model as they attempt to shape that legend to make it work as a

dynamic illusion. They are representative of all the attitudes--chiv-

alry, gallantry and poetry. Some conceive of themselves as vicars of

God; some deny this vicarship to pursue lives of diversion; and all of

them contribute some part of themselves to the legend.

After the introductory book in which Horvendile assigns tasks,

each of the remaining nine books is devoted to a description of the way

in which these tasks are accomplished. Five of these episodes are quest

journeys in which the personal drives of the knight and his allegiance to

Dom Manuel's legend are in conflict.

Gonfal journeys South to overthrow the mythology of the funda-

mentalists, but he quickly succumbs to the female wiles of Queen Morvyth

of Inis Dahut. For him Manuel is dead and there is nothing of value in

the legend of Manuel. He questions the value of political power, wisdom

and love, saying that they are worthless illusions which he as an ex-

poet has found to be ephemeral. Declaring himself a realist, he readily

accepts his own execution at the order of Queen Morvyth; Gonfal, then,

denies the demiurgic spirit of Romance, pursues a life devoted to gal-

lantry and dies fully accepting the world as it is. The legend of Manuel

has in him its first martyr, a necessary ingredient for any religion.

Gonfal is like Jurgen, in some ways, but unlike Jurgen he throws over il-

lusion for reality; he does not possess Jurgen's ability to straddle the

world of illusion and the world as it is.

Coth's quest journey takes him West and his main desire is to save

the Manuel he knew from the idea of him as it is being developed by Nia-

fer, St. Holmendis and lying poets. Where Gonfal denies Manuel any

existence after his departure from Poictesme, Coth professes to keep

the real Manuel intact against all comers. He is journeying to fetch

Manuel back because he refuses to believe that he is dead.

Coth's journeying takes him through many lands and in each he

honors the particular religious custom of that land. He is capable of

accepting any illusion so long as acceptance is expedient. In Tollan,

Yaot, in order to rid himself of Coth, wills the spirit of Manuel back

and the spirit bestows a final obligation on the only person on earth

who loves him as he was. Manuel's spirit tells Coth that the fictions

being created in his name are better than the real thing; so he as a

Fellow of the Silver Stallion must obey and forget Manuel the man to

take up the idea of Manuel, the Redeemer, the idea created and embel-

lished by Jurgen, Holmendis, Niafer, and the lying poets.

Coth returns to Poictesme where he confronts the legend of Manuel

as it has been developed around Jurgen's childish lie. He disparages

the legend, but he accepts the motto "Mundus Vult Decipi," making em-

blems bearing it the major icons of his house. Remembering the days of

his quest, Coth grows old in a world founded on a legend which he knows

to be untrue. Finally he dies feeling cheated by life. He has failed to

make the compromise with the fiction by which fools live.

Both of these followers of Manuel reject the legend and accept

death without belief; but both become parts of the legend which makes

saints of all those who knew -Manuel. Gonfal is a martyr and Coth be-

comes a fondly remembered elder who ostensibly seems to preserve the

memory of Manuel the Redeemer until his last day.

The remaining quest journeys in The Silver Stallion are spiritual

and supernatural. As in The Cream of the Jest and Something About Eve,

Cabell shifts his attention to the internal problems of his heroes.

Guivric the Sage discovers that his world though materially secure, is

spiritually disrupted; so he goes East to seek some solution from the

Glaum without Bones. As he journeys East he gradually loses his physi-

cal form and when he arrives at the Glaum's place he discovers that he is

at home. The Glaum has taken Guivric's body, leaving only his spirit.

As Guivric, the Glaum becomes a pillar of the religion of Manuel. The

real Guivric, now only a Phantom, wanders the hills of Perdigon, diffus-

ing funeral odors, walking on feet with illuminated soles, and making

girls giggle and blush.

Guivric's journey back to complete spiritual existence is a jour-

ney toward origins of religions, the East. It is a movement away from the

corroding, life-sucking life of Asch (Cash) and of power and security.

He is throwing off the vestments of life for a phantom existence as a

legendary, lecherous devil-spirit. His physical self adheres to a be-

lief in the legend of Manuel; his spiritual self becomes an adversary of

that belief, a ghostly illusion that attracts believers away from the

ideals of Manuel.

Kevin of Nointel's dream journey is an underground one in search

of all knowledge or truth as a gift for his wife. The ultimate truth

that he discovers after studying all recorded knowledge under the tute-

lage of Sclaug the Vampire, is that nobody knows why life is given to

human beings. The acquisition of all knowledge leads to skepticism.

When Kevin returns to Poictesme, he immediately becomes a convert to the

great cult of Manuel. He blindly accepts "the sublime truths about

Manuel the Redeemer" and "turns his interest again to life's unimportant

superficial, familiar tasks, and on his food" (III, 212).

In Kevin's quest Cabell depicts the nature of skeptical belief and

acceptance which grows out of knowledge, but disavows the truth it knows

while believing a dynamic illusion. These myths or illusions generate

good and can be accepted as truth even though they are not. Kevin accepts

and compromises; as a result of this compromise he lives and his progeny

live, dutifully embellishing the legend of Manuel.

Donander's quest takes him to Valhalla, the Hall of the Chosen.

There he accepts the heaven of the heathen though he continues to be-

lieve in the legend of Manuel. In Valhalla he fits out a chapel, a

place where he can pray for "the second coming of Manuel and for the

welfare of Donander's soul upon the Holy Morrow of Judgment" (III, 266).

After a while in pagan eternity, Donander becomes a demiurge and begins

to create worlds, planetary systems, and universes. All of these diver-

sions of Valhalla, however, seem to him to be only "illusions planned

with some evil spirit's aid to tempt Donander away from respectability

and the true faith" (III, 277). The Demiurge, here represented as

Donander Veratyr, creates dynamic illusions which are worlds and universes;

but he has a human heart which makes him a devout believer in another il-

lusion which he did not create, the legend of the redeemer, of hope and

salvation for mankind as well as God.

All of these journeys and those sections of The Silver Stallion

which are not quests become a part of the legend of Manuel. The episodes

are described in the nine books as they happened but within the legend

of Manuel they assume the form of poetic sagas. Horvendile, the fictive

Author within The Biography and the all-knowing creator of these events,

returns to call attention to discrepancies between the legends and actu-

ality. With a cruel smile he says:

So does it come about that the saga of Manuel and the
sagas of all the lords of the Silver Stallion have been
reshaped by the foolishness and the fond optimism of

mankind; and these sagas now conform in everything to
that supreme romance which preserves from insanity [sic].
For it is just as I said, years ago, to one of these
drolly white-washed and ennobled rapscallions. All men
that live, and that go perforce about the world like
blundering lost children whose rescuer is not yet in
sight, have a vital need to believe in the sustaining
legend about the Redeemer, and about the Redeemer's
power to make those persons who serve him just and
perfect. (III, 293)

The journeys of those who deny Manuel or make a compromise with reality

in order to accept his legend or carry that belief into the pagan cosmol-

ogy become integral parts of Manuel's legend as a Redeemer and the sym-

bolic vicarship of man to God. They in conjunction with Manuel's own

actions are the raw materials out of which the poets construct the myths

that guide men toward that which they cannot attain.

The theme of compromise and acceptance occurs again in Something

About Eve, the story of the quest journey of the mind of a would-be poet.

Gerald Musgrave's journey toward Antan is an allegorized version of the

literary artist's temptations as he seeks poetic perfection. The epi-

sodes, like those in Jurgen and Figures of Earth, are complex objectifi-

cations of a man's mind internally facing and rejecting dynamic illusions.

The impetus for this symbolic quest is not a dream, but a bargained ex-

change between the physical poet and the spirit of the poet. While

Gerald's spirit travels, his body is occupied by a Glaum.

With Horvendile's aid, Gerald bypasses Manhood, pauses in the

mirror of Romance, destroys the mirror of the flesh-colored veil of

Reality, the mirror of the male and female principle; then he comes to

his resting place with Maya and her rose-colored glasses, a compromise

existence which he accepts even though it keeps him away from Antan, the

misty final place of all myths and poets. During his stay on Mispec

Moor, he spends his days conversing about literary matters with various

myths and poets who are completing their journeys to Antan. When he

leaves the Moor at fifty-eight, he accepts his body's non-romantic de-

votion to a study of the two truths, male and female. Like Jurgen he

must content himself with studying these aspects of living, because his

age no longer permits participation.

Gerald's spiritual journey comes to a climax when he turns from

his goal, the ruling of Antan as the Lord of the Third Truth. His jour-

neying was guided by Horvendile up to the time that he stopped at Mispec

Moor. When Maya takes over Horvendile's demiurgic power over the mind

ceases. Like Jurgen, Musgrave is in the end stripped of his romantic

notions, his elaborate cloak of dynamic illusions. The implication at

the conclusion of Something About Eve is that this spiritual journeying

toward Antan is always being undertaken by some poet's mind. As Gerald's

spirit returns to Gerald's body, the Glaum starts toward Antan and he

looks very much like Horvendile--the fictional Author of The Biography.

Gerald, having given up the writing of that work about Dom Manuel's life,

someone must take it up.

This device of the ending that is another beginning of the cir-

cular archetypal journey occurs in Jurgen, Figures of Earth, and The High

Place. At the end of his life Manuel the Redeemer steps into the Lethe

but it suddenly becomes the Haranton, a stream out of which he stepped

at the beginning of the novel. Jurgen thinks of returning to the cave

to begin his adventure in dreams over again. At the end of The High

Place Florian is back at the beginning of the life he has just dreamed

of living. That each journey seems on the verge of beginning again and

taking the same direction supports Cabell's notion of the journey as an

archetypal pattern in great fiction. As the journey pattern suggests

many classical journeys such as The Odyssey and The Divina Commedia, so

in its endings it suggests constant repetition of both pattern and theme.

In The High Place Cabell again uses the dream journey framework,

but there is a critical inversion of the pattern. Florian, the dreaming

hero and the absolute sensualistic representative of the gallant atti-

tude, attains his ideals of beauty and holiness at the beginning of his

journey. The quest, then, is a series of trials performed to secure his

release from the corroding influence of the embodiments of beauty and


The pattern of The High Place is a very symmetrical one; ten-year-

old Florian dreams a romantic dream after finishing Charles Perrault's

recently published collection of fairy tales (c. 1698). His dream is

the story of his attainment of supposed ideal love, Melior, and supposed

perfect holiness, St. Hoprig. His knowledge of these two leads quickly

to disillusionment and to their destruction as his ideals. Out of neces-

sity to rid himself of the perfect woman and the perfect saint, Florian

bargains with Janicot in a kind of reversed Faust-Mephistopheles arrange-

ment. To attain this freedom from his idols, Florian destroys his poli-

tical illusion, ignores the mists of Antan, seduces Freydis, ridicules an

optimistic literary gander, rejects religion, and finally seeks to destroy

himself. At the moment he chooses to die rather than to live with Melior

and St. Hoprig, the dream ends, apparently with Janicot keeping his part

of the bargain; the much wiser but disillusioned ten-year-old Florian

wakes with Perrault's tales in his lap.

As the other allegorical novels have associations with classical

literary journeys, the form and content of The High Place is derived from

the fairy tale. Perrault's tales are converted into dreams which are

dominated by a theme of disillusionment and the destruction of fantasy-

inspired dreams. Cabell transforms the Sleeping Beauty, the Prince, the

King, and Puss-in-Boots into Melior, a shrewish wife, Florian, a sensu-

alist, the King, an opportunist, and the Collyn in the pot, a peculiar

creature that answers questions. Mother Goose becomes a gander who

voices the essence of Beyond Life. And, in addition to these figures

from Perrault, Florian meets the mythical gods of things as they are,

Cabell's pantheon of realists: Koshchei, Janicot, Pan, and Grandfather

Death. Florian's desire to accept in the gallant manner, defeats all

those who tempt him away from his avowed purpose: to destroy his alle-

giance to beauty and holiness. Having journeyed through episodes which

symbolically present the other attitudes and the dynamic illusions which

men believe in, Florian finally returns from his disillusioning dream

to Poictesme to shape his own standards in gallantry and to die a com-

pletely domesticated man with his ideals of beauty and holiness always

out of reach.

Cabell has in these five major novels examined the dynamic illu-

sions, the Demiurge spirit of Romance, and the auctorial virtues from

many different points of view and in different contexts. Each allegori-

cal journey has a similar ending: acceptance of the human condition, the

compromise with the world as it is and the understanding of the nature

of illusions. Jurgen exposes the illusions to reason, keeping his dream

of perfection, Helen, intact as dream. Manuel exposes the illusions to

the force of action and becomes the subject of a religion. The knights

of the Fellowship of the Silver Stallion deny any belief or they accept

the disparity between beliefs and actualities. Gerald exposes the illu-

sions to imaginative self-consciousness and turns away from poetry to

ethnic sexology. And Florian dissolves his ideals in an effort to live

a life of self-sufficiency void of holiness and beauty.

Cabell's poet-heroes stop writing, his dreamers cease to dream

without skepticism, and his sensualists become domesticated. The third

truth in Antan, Pseudopolis, Heaven, or Hell, evades them; their lives

subside in two truths: "We copulate and die." The pattern is simple:

the hero is challenged (he dreams), he seeks (he journeys), and he falls

short (he accepts and compromises). There are no happy endings and no

final resolutions to Cabell's working out of the basic paradox of his

literary theory. All the poet-heroes learn to live with the paradox:

the dream and the reality will never be one though they are dependent on

one another. The poet-dreamer imagines a world in which his imaginative

characters and illusions function; his main problem is the necessity of

distinguishing between the fantasy world and the real one. The novels

discussed in this section are fictional examinations of the ways in which

two poets, two ex-poets, five followers of a legend, and a man who leads

a poetic life respond to this paradox.


Cabell's fictive places are the most specifically allegorical as-

pects of his fiction, and for that reason they are essential parts of

his fictionally expounded theory of literature. With the exception of

Lichfield,, Fairhaven, and Poictesme, he spends less effort on describing

the physical details about places than he does in fully examining their

abstract significance. This scarcity of descriptive detail is in itself

an aspect of the literary theory for he speaks out against the intrusion

of extraneous materials into fiction:

For one, I confess that when any writer formally and im-
personally sets out to describe anything, I find it hard to
put up with his nonsense. When I am in my more amiable moods,
then hurrying eyes glide by solid stolid-looking paragraphs;
I incuriously accept on faith the probability that the descrip-
tion is being competently attended to: and I, unvexed, pass on
toward such portions of the book as may conceivably prove re-
munerative reading. . But far oftener am I the prey of
logic and of peevishness, when I consider the malversation of
time involved in every attempt to convey the true efficacy of
a regarded vista, or of any observed object, by recording seri-
atim such attributes as, in life, we note simultaneously with
plural senses. (XVII, 227-228)

Cabell's aversion to lengthy descriptive passages is by no means a child-

like desire for more action and less pause; it is a part of his concern

for "a conscious point of view" in any novel. He believes that the novel-

ist should only permit himself those descriptions "which would be noted,

naturally, from that point of view at that especial moment. And all de-

scription will thus be converted into action, in the form, not necessarily

stated outright, that so-and-so observed such-and-such phenomena" (XVII,

228). Cabell opposes the omniscient author and favors a limited

omniscience with concentration on a central intelligence. lie states

what he calls a truism of the novelist's art: "that no scene or object

can display any qualities unless there is some one to notice them; that,

even then, these qualities stay undisplayed unless the potential observer

have the needful interest and the time, just then to notice them; and

that to present these qualities as existing impersonally--howsoever

general in 'writing' may be the insane practice,--is to present (here

again) an existence which is inconceivable"(XVII, 228). The statement

only seems to argue for absolutely logical and realistic reflection of

the plausible in fiction. In truth it is the theoretical basis that

Cabell uses to avoid realistic detail; it is the principle underlying

the romantic attitude toward place throughout The Biography. Cabell had

early in his career trapped himself into using details about real places

in his fiction and he found it too confining for his stories and ideas.

At the moment of this discovery he began to create the imaginary places--

Poictesme, Fairhaven, Lichfield, Antan, Audela--where the actions of his

novels could occur unhampered by rules that govern actuality.

Though Cabell favors anagrams for place names, thereby locking

their meanings in one term, some allegorical places of his fiction are

not anagrams. Antan is literary in origin, and Philistia is a Biblical

place name. The anagrammatic place names are frequent and character-

istically Cabellian in Something About Eve, Gerald'sjourney toward Antan

takes him to Doonham (Manhood), Dersam (Dreams), and Dersam's royal

palace, Caer Omn (Romance); then to Lytreia (Reality) and finally to

Turoine (Routine) on the outskirts of his last stop, Mispec Moor (Com-

promise), the home of Maya, the eternal female principle. These places

are briefly described, but such passages are minimal and logically only

what Gerald Musgrave might observe in passing. When he arrives at Doon-

ham (Manhood), a river, the following passage occurs: "Directly before

him the deep river sparkled and rippled eastward with unhurried, very

shallow undulations. But, under the sun's warmth, mists rising every-

where above the waters streamed eastward, too, unhastily, and in such

unequal volume that now this and now another portion of the wide land-

scape beyond the river was irregularly glimpsed and then, gradually but

with a surprising quickness, veiled. Very lovely medallions of green

lawns and shrubbery and distant hills thus seemed to take form and then

to dissolve into the mist's incessant gray flowing, toward the newly

risen sun. ."(X, 57). Cabell's description serves to indicate Mus-

grave's sensual response and to clarify the symbolic river's meaning as

a representative of the normal pattern of man's life. The river moves

in time through various atmospheres and panoramas and into a mist.

Dersam (Dreams) is only described as being in desolation because

its leige lord, Glaum of the Haunting Eyes, has departed to take up an

earthly existence. The royal palace of Dersam, Caer Omn (Romance) has a

walled garden anda golden mirror which glows with golden mists. Lytreia

has one notable place, Peter's Tomb, and that has two relics: "An over-

candidly carved and painted post which stood in eternal erection at the

door of the tomb" (X, 113) and a flesh-colored mirror. Turoine (Routine)

is described only as "a small free city given to sorceries of two colors"

(X, 137). There is no description of Mispec Moor (Compromise). Clearly

the main notions about the places are communicated through the anagram-

matic names and the allegorical events that occur in them. Cabell some-

times complicates these meanings with esoteric and obscure learning, but

in general the intent is clear and the meanings are sustained throughout

each episode.

Audela (beyond) and Antan (yesteryear) represent the beginning

and the end of poetry. Audela and its fire, the source of poetic in-

spiration that produces great poets, is one of Cabell's most elaborately

conceived mythic places. In Figures of Earth he first describes its qual-

ities through Freydis, its former queen, who has been called out of

Audela by Manuel's magic. To her Audela alone is real. "Here (on earth)

all is but a restless contention of shadows which pass presently; here

all that is visible and all the colors known to men are shadows dimming

the true colors; here time and death, the darkest shadows known to men,

delude you with false seemings; for all such things as men hold incon-

testable, because they are apparent to sight and sense, are a weariful

drifting of fogs that veil the world which is no longer mine. So in

this twilit [sic] world of yours do we of Audela appear to be but men and

women" (II, 102). Audela lies behind the veil of sight and sense. "This

veil that separates Audela from earth may not ever be lifted; but very

often the veil is pierced, and noting the broken places, men call it

fire. Through these torn places men may glimpse the world that is real;

and their glimpse dazzles their dimmed eyes and weakling faces, and

through these rent places, when the opening is made large enough, a few

men here and there not quite so witless as their fellows, know how to

summon us of Audela" (II, 102). These figures from Audela work in the

the shadow world of man and sometimes they give "a spark of the true

life of Audela" to earthen figures who are then great poets and whom all

the other people "applaud as the most trivial of men and women" (II, 103).

This land, which Manuel rejects, is a mythic version of one of the

most important ideas of Cabell's literary theory. Audela is the essence

of romance, the force that emerges only in the poet. For Cabell it is the

truth beneath the veil of life, the fire at the center and the source of

poetic imaginativeness. Poets have access to the fire in two ways: by

making the breaks in the veil themselves, as Prometheus, the archetypal

artist did, and by having the gift of the fire of Audela bestowed upon

them without their volition. Both ways reflect the traditional Romantic

view of the poet as a special man--a man capable of seeing beyond the

veil to the fiery heart of the matter. This divine and mystical poetic

urge for the most part seems to come from outside the poet and it drives

him to create. For Cabell all of those great literary figures discussed

in Beyond Life--Marlowe, Congreve, Wycherly, Sheridan, Villon, Thackeray,

and Dickens--are Audela-inspired. This divine nature of poetic inspira-

tion has as its corollary the Romantic notion of the poet as a demon-

haunted, God-touched individual who sees through the veil darkly.

Audela is an absolute idea as the Demiurge is an absolute idea; only

the poet, the maker, reveals the absolute truth, reality without the

shadows of life. Such reality or truth is obviously not synonymous with

actuality or a physical condition; it is essence, the urge to create, the

force behind the dynamic illusions that have their most accurate shaping

in poets. Cabell's reality is the spirit of Romance and the spirit of

Romance is represented by Audela and more philosophically by the Demi-

urge. Manuel's rejection of Audela's fire and his abduction of its

queen amount to a rejection of art as a way of living and a preference

for the chivalric and gallant illusions of Poictesme.

Antan, yesteryear, is less precisely defined than Audela, but it

occupies an important position in the allegorical journeys of The Biogra-

phy. None of Cabell's poet-heroes reaches Antan. Gerald stops short of

it on Mispec Moor, which overlooks the valley Antan. Queen Freydis,

exiled from Audela, now reigns, with the consort, the Master Philologist,

over "the word as it was in the beginning," and supervises reinterpre-

tation of past myths and poetry. Gerald's quest is an attempt to restore

this resting place of dynamic illusions to the rule of a poet.

Antan, like Audela, is not an anagram; it is a word taken from

the refrain of a Villon ballade: "Ou sont les neiges d'antan." The

other places have specific unchanging qualities that are represented

within names, thus giving them fixed positions in the allegory. Antan

does not; it is an allusion to a line of imaginative literature. It is

a hazy, misty land toward which great poets journey for absolute self-

realization as poets. Antan is the final resting place of created il-

lusions, the Elysian fields for completed poetic lives. No one returns

from it and few reach it. Antan, yesteryear, is the echoing, illusory

refrain of an old song. It alone is not ruled by the Two Truths with

their teaching that "we copulate and die." The ruling truth of this re-

alism is the unknown Third Truth.

Antan is also the final resting place of all past myths and legends.

In Antan, the Master Philologist explicates all myths, resolving their

existence as dynamic illusions in pedantic analysis. Horvendile, the di-

abolical Author, explains this aspect of Antan while extoling the superi-

ority of the two truths. "Men have found many gods, but these gods pass.

They descend into Antan, and they do not return. One God and one Goddess

alone do not pass. They remain eternally, if but to weave eternally a

mist about the seeing and the thinking of the young, and thus to secure

the existence of yet other young persons within a month or so" (X, 295).

The two truths rule the Marches of Antan, and they alone cannot be

evaporated into interpretations. Gerald answers this attack on his own

which emphasizes his preference for the poetic imagination. For him a

poet's dream of a place is always more lovely than the place. "So a

logical poet will always destroy his appointed kingdom because in this

way only can he convert it into a beautiful idea" (X, 297).

Those who travel past Gerald to Antan include Nero, Villon, Odys-

seus, Solomon, and Merlin Ambrosius; all of them so journey to find com-

pletion or to settle their discontent and to have possession of "the word

which was in the beginning." They are driven by a desire for unknown

possibilities; Antan is the mythical unknown, a future illusion based on

the history and legends of the past; it is an end for those who are dis-

contented with the present. It represents the impossibility of achieving

all of the auctorial virtues.

The only Cabellian hero who ever enters Antan and returns is

Florian. He goes in quest of a magical sword, Flamberge, and he seduces

the Queen of Antan to get it; as an absolute sensualist he is immune to

the mists and illusions of Antan. His actions are pragmatic: he must

have the sword Freydis has in the storeroom of mythical swords, and she

is a beautiful woman. Having dwelled so long on the mystical notion of

Antan, Cabell characteristically undermines the illusiveness by having a

man of action invade it and remain unchanged. Illusions are of no con-

sequence to Florian, and Antan is a storehouse of past illusions.

Audela and Antan are allegorical representations of absolute

truth and the past illusions which survive in the misty future. Two

other places in The Biography are less abstract but nonetheless important

to Cabell's theory of literature. Philistia and Pseudopolis must be con-

sidered together because together they reflect Cabell's critical view of

his own literary age.

Philistia is ruled by Queen Stultitia, who like Sereda wears rose-

colored glasses. The law of Philistia is that a man but do what is ex-

pected of him; "the Philistines were created after the images of Kosh-

chei who made things as they are" (VI, 205). In Philistia babies are

brought by storks--"even an allusion to the possibility of misguided

persons obtaining a baby in any other way these Philistines consider to

be offensive and lewd and lascivious and obscene" (II, 187). To Cabell

Philistia is synonymous with the taste of the twentieth century and the

prevalence of realism. The Philistines, self-appointed arbiters and re-

alistic writers, are the corroders of taste and of the auctorial virtues

in the United States. In Jurgen he unleashed a satirical attack on them,

in Beyond Life and Straws and Prayerbooks he is more particular in naming

these offenders against taste.

University of Florida Home Page
© 2004 - 2010 University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries.
All rights reserved.

Acceptable Use, Copyright, and Disclaimer Statement
Last updated October 10, 2010 - - mvs